Countdown begins as Braves reassign top prospect Ronald Acuña Jr. to minor league camp

Ronald Acuña Jr.’s spring numbers were gaudy as you’d expect from everyone’s reigning minor league player of the year and one of the top prospects in all of baseball.

But the Atlanta arrival of the 20-year -old outfielder will have to wait as the Braves informed Acuña on Monday that he’s been reassigned to minor league camp. He’ll start the season at Triple-A Gwinnett.

“The more we talked about it organizationally, from a philosophical standpoint, having more development time, no one’s ever been hurt by that,” Braves manager Alex Anthopoulos told 680 The Fan. “We do feel like it’s probably best overall from a philosophical standpoint to get him more development time.”

He’ll have to wait until at least April 13 to make his major league debut, which would guarantee he doesn’t get enough service time in 2018 and guarantees the club an extra year of control.

It takes 172 days of service time to be credited for a full year, so keeping Acuña at Triple-A for the first weeks of the season would not make him a potential free agent until after the 2024 season. If he broke camp as part of the Braves’ active roster, he could hit free agency following 2023.

There was the likelihood the Braves would go this route despite Acuña’s impressive spring, as he’s hit .432/.519/.727 with four home runs, a double and 11 RBI in 44 at-bats. His hits (19), average, on-base percentage and slugging percentage were the second-highest of anyone this spring, and came in the Venezuelan’s first official big-league camp.

Acuña, slashed .325/.374/.522 with 31 doubles, eight triples and 21 home runs and stole 44 bases across three levels in 2017 as a teenager. Among his long list of postseason awards included Baseball America‘s player of the year.

Should the Braves call Acuña up immediately after securing another year of control, he could debut during an April 13-15 series against the Cubs — or they could wait until they return to SunTrust Park for a series against the Phillies beginning April 16.

Famously, the Cubs sent Kris Bryant to the minors for all of 12 days at the start of the 2015 season, a move that delayed his free agency until 2022 instead of 2021. This came a year after he hit 43 home runs between Double-A and Triple-A. He went on to hit .275/.369/.488 that season, winning National League Rookie of the Year and finishing 11th in the MVP voting.

Along with Acuña, Atlanta also reassigned pitchers Josh Graham and Miguel Socolovich, catcher Rob Brantley, infielder Christian Colon and outfielder Dustin Peterson.

Follow Cory McCartney on Twitter @coryjmccartney and Facebook. His books, ‘Tales from the Atlanta Braves Dugout: A Collection of the Greatest Braves Stories Ever Told,’ and ‘The Heisman Trophy: The Story of an American Icon and Its Winners.’ are now available.