On Wednesday night, baseball’s top positional prospect, Ronald Acuña Jr., finally made his long-awaited major league debut, after he’d struggled through weeks of service time with the Braves’ Triple-A affiliate. The sole, obvious purpose of this delay was so that the Braves could add an extra year of contract control during the arbitration process. During a back-and-forth game with the cellar-dwelling Cincinnati Reds, Acuña put most of his big-league-ready skillset on display.
The line on its own looked unremarkable—1-for-5 with a pair of strikeouts—but it’s what came in the margins that flashed his potential. In his first two at-bats, Acuña swung at the first pitches he saw, but both were mammoth outs in close proximity to the wall.
Once Acuña landed a poke up the middle for his first big-league hit in the eighth inning, it was a perfect time to showcase his game-changing speed. He clocked in at 30.3 feet/second sprint speed per Statcast, which is in Billy Hamilton territory.
For whatever he lacks in plate discipline, there’s really been nothing to indicate that Acuña shouldn’t have made his major-league debut on opening day. Before working out his April doldrums in Triple-A, he slashed .432/.519/.727 in 16 spring games, which came after a pretty undeniable season at all three minor league levels in 2017. That big, grotesque loophole in the collective bargaining agreement is to blame for keeping Acuña in the minors for another month, no matter what strategic language Braves executives drummed up to justify something that intentionally harmed their chances to compete this year.
The Braves have been adequately hanging in there thus far, much to their own surprise, finally getting what they hoped for when they were gifted Dansby Swanson from the Diamondbacks, and hopefully getting seasons from youngster Ozzie Albies and a healthy Freddie Freeman. Contending this year was never part of the plan, and it remains to be seen if they’ll leverage a decent April into a decent summer. It will be even harder to forgive the unscrupulous forces behind Acuña’s delayed rollout if they somehow stumble into a Wild-Card race and come up short.
Update (1:15 p.m.): Acuña just bashed this massive dong, his first as a big-leaguer: