Honor Roll: Austin Riley, Ronald Acuña headline Braves' dominance in Arizona Fall League
As the World Series wrapped up in dramatic fashion and the Atlanta Braves organization awaited Major League Baseball’s ruling on allegations of improprieties in talent acquisition — both in the domestic and international markets — future waves continue to crest in the desert.
Braves prospects own the Arizona Fall League. In particular, the three position players the organization sent out for to the Peoria Javolinas for winter ball rank in the league’s top 12 in OPS exiting the AFL All-Star game. Here’s a player-by-player rundown of the highlights entering the back half of the schedule:
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Austin Riley, 3B
Stats: .326/.392/.739, 10 XBH in 11 games
The former first-round pick and heir apparent to Atlanta’s third-base spot is capping two straight consistent seasons with an exclamation point.
In a league overstocked with top position prospects like Victor Robles (Nationals), Kyle Tucker (Astros), Francisco Mejia (Indians) and Kyle Lewis (Mariners), no player is outpacing Riley’s 1.131 OPS so far.
Bolstered by the Arizona Fall League’s first cycle since 2008, Riley continues to put up top-100-type numbers wherever he goes — in his age-20 campaign, he posted a .511 slugging percentage at Double-A Mississippi — while improving defensively. Scouting question marks revolving around his bat speed persist, but his loud statement out west has done nothing to cool the hype.
Mark J. Rebilas
Ronald Acuña, OF
Stats: .344/.425/.672, 5 HR in 17 games
Atlanta’s unquestioned No. 1 prospect no longer requires introduction. His performance in the Arizona Fall League officially tops off a year-long hitting clinic spanning from Australia to spring training in Orlando, up through three levels in the Braves’ minor-league system and, now, the star-studded fall-league circuit. Over that span, dating back to his winter-ball stint in the Australian League, the 6-foot outfielder claims 81 extra-base hits in his past 717 official plate appearances.
Acuña’s 1.097 OPS is tied for second only behind Riley, tallying five doubles, five home runs and 12 RBI in 61 at-bats while also swiping two bags.
Arguably the No. 1 prospect in all of baseball, Acuña joined Riley and Touki Toussaint on the AFL All-Star roster and quickly showed off yet another elite tool: Per Statcast, Acuña reached a top speed of 29.4 feet per second on a stolen-base attempt. Only nine MLB players posted faster times last season. Yet another way Acuña will immediately upgrade Atlanta’s outfield when he’s promoted next year.
Mark J. Rebilas
Max Fried, LHP
Stats: 23 IP, 1.96 ERA, 29 strikeouts
Max Fried’s place in Atlanta’s 2018 rotation race remains up in the air, but the left-hander is clearly overmatching AFL hitters. Fried leads all pitchers with 29 strikeouts and 23 innings pitched, carrying the 10th-best ERA among pitchers with double-digit innings. Perhaps more importantly, his walks per nine has dropped from his rookie-season mark of 4.15 to 2.74.
If the Braves were looking for an impressive showing from Fried to kickstart a potential Opening Day bid, they are getting just that.
Alex Jackson, Catcher
Stats: .286/.344/.607, 5 HR in 13 games
The highest-upside catching prospect in Atlanta’s system has hit 24 home runs in 423 professional at-bats in 2017 — including his production in High-A, Double-A and the Arizona Fall League — raising his prospect stock along the way. Jackson is looking much closer to the prospect the Mariners tabbed with the sixth overall pick in 2014, successfully transitioning back to his high-school position while posting his highest OPS since rookie ball.
That player is on display in Arizona. Jackson is currently tied with Acuña for the AFL lead in home runs and ranks 12th in OPS directly behind top-25 prospect Francisco Mejia. If Jackson performs anywhere close to this rate next season, he will likely find himself in the big leagues late next summer.