Certain player types emerge every February and March as fantasy baseball owners prepare for their drafts and auctions. The specific players who fill those roles change, but the roles themselves carry over from year to year. Identifying the players who fit each archetype before you sit down to build your team can help you find hidden value and avoid impending busts. We’ll take a look at the 10 most identifiable, enduring archetypes in our Player Profile series. In this edition, we consider The Budding Superstar: Ronald Acuña of the Atlanta Braves.
Kris Bryant and Cody Bellinger both had exactly zero games of MLB experience before playing 130-plus games and cruising to the NL Rookie of the Year Award in 2015 and 2017, respectively. Aaron Judge and Corey Seager, two other recent ROY winners, played fewer than 30 games before their first full seasons. Carlos Correa and Francisco Lindor launched one of the best ROY races in recent memory as midseason callups, with both playing 99 games without any prior MLB experience.
Players are arriving in the majors more ready to be instant superstars than ever before. Ronald Acuña, the game’s consensus No. 1 prospect, can be the latest in this proud recent tradition.
Acuña, who’s all of 20 years old, spent last season at three different levels of the minors. He started at High-A Florida, where he hit .287/.336/.478 in 28 games. He moved on to Double-A Mississippi, where he slashed .326/.374/.520 with nine homers and 19 steals in 243 plate appearances. Once he proved he was too good for that level, too, the Braves moved him to Triple-A Gwinnett. It turned out that he saved his best for last.
Acuña hit .344/.393/.548 in 243 plate appearances against the best competition the minors has to offer. He belted nine homers, hit 14 doubles, and stole 11 bases. This isn’t the Pacific Coast League, either, with its seemingly unending stream of great hitters’ environments. Gwinnett is in the International League, which plays to a much more neutral level between hitters and pitchers. There’s an argument that Acuña’s performance at Gwinnett last year was just as impressive, if not more so, as Kris Bryant’s half season at Triple-A Iowa, which is in the PCL, where he hit .295/.418/.619 with 21 homers. Either way, Acuña is likely the most MLB-ready player since Bryant came up in 2015.
Put all of last season’s numbers together and, as a 19-year-old, when many of us are freshmen in college, Acuña posted a .325/.366/.522 slash line with 21 homers, 44 steals and 31 doubles across three levels of the minors. I don’t want to speak for all of you, but that’s more impressive that what I did during my freshman year of college.
The only real question for Acuña is when he’ll be promoted. The Braves are going to stash him at Gwinnett for at least a couple of weeks to ensure another year of team control. If they call him up at the earliest possible point after manipulating his service time for long enough to get that extra year, he’ll be with the big league club in late April. No fantasy owner will be sad about burning a roster spot for a few weeks, or even a month and a half, if it means getting 400-plus plate appearances out of Acuña. If he’s still in Gwinnett into June, however, the potential payoff reduces significantly. There’s no way to know when the Braves will call him up, but this is a risk worth taking, especially since the Braves have zero reason to leave him in the minors, once they effectively push back his arbitration and free agency eligibility dates.
There may be no player who combines excitement, talent and extreme youth in the same abundance as Acuña. He’s a true five-tool player who’s ready to be a star the moment the Braves call him up to the majors. You’ll likely have to let him burn a roster spot for at least a month if you draft him, but don’t let that keep you away. Few players at his stage of the draft come with the same potential payoff. Ask the owners in your league who got Bryant or Correa in 2015, or Bellinger or Judge last year, or Seager in 2016 if the investment was worth it. Acuña is that player this season. He is 2018’s Budding Superstar. Do not let him pass you by.