Remember the Kris Bryant situation in 2015? The future MVP for the Cubs was one of baseball's top prospects and he was crushing the ball all spring. Due to service-time manipulation (sorry, Theo, I mean Bryant needing some extra work on defense), Bryant started the season in the minors. He was called up to the bigs after just eight Cubs games and now won't hit free agency until after 2021 instead of post-2020.
We're about to see a similar situation unfold with the Braves and baseball's top prospect, Ronald Acuna. After hitting a home run Tuesday, Acuna is slashing .424/.525/.636 with two homers and four steals in 41 plate appearances.
Here's his Tuesday homer:
Just a few days ago, he showed his full arsenal of offensive skills with two hits and two stolen bases:
He looks so effortless on the steal, huh?
OK, so small sample size and spring training -- where the stats really don't correlate at all to regular-season success -- bring two caveats, but Acuna's talent is undeniable.
He started last season in Class-A Advanced. After 28 games, he played his way up to Double-A. After 57 games there, it was onto Triple-A, where he hit .344/.393/.548 with 14 doubles, two triples, nine homers, 33 RBI, 38 runs and 11 stolen bases in 54 games.
Acuna is only 20, but his résumé says he's ready for a big-league stint sooner rather than later.
For the Braves, it's a no-brainer, right? Grab the extra year of service time for seven years of the player instead of six before he has a shot at free agency. It's especially prudent with someone of Acuna's age, because he'll be hitting free agency in the middle of his prime instead of, say, a 24-year-old rookie who wouldn't be getting to free agency until he's north of his 30th birthday.
This offseason, however, the relationship in general between the players (namely the MLB Players Association) and the teams has grown more contentious than it has been in a long time. Manipulating his service time could lead to.
Should Acuna keep hitting like this, expect to see a lot of discussion about where he starts the season in the days leading up to opening day. Regardless, he'll be a major-leaguer very soon.