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Atlanta Braves AFL Season Recap: Acuna, Fried, Riley Headline Stellar Crew

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Ronald Acuna took home AFL MVP honors, with Austin Riley providing another dominant fall for a Braves prospect. Max Fried was superhuman much of the season, and Alex Jackson played an important role as well

Minor League Baseball: Arizona Fall League-All Star Game
The Acuna Fall League was a highlight show for the young star prospect
Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Ronald Acuna

.325/.414/.639, 7 HR, 16 RBI, 22 K, 12 BB

Every time I feel like Ronald Acuna has reached his limits, or that perhaps we’ve been hyping him up too much, he manages to exceed every expectation set for him. Ronald Acuna, at age 19 years and 336 days, won the Arizona Fall League MVP and became the youngest player to ever do so. Because of course he did. Let’s not pretend there aren’t still doubters, as reports popped up that he sometimes struggled with plate discipline and was often a bit over-eager to impress, but regardless he fought through any problems he had and was the best player in the Arizona Fall League. Acuna led the league in home runs and runs scored, although he was edged out for the league lead in OPS by his teammate. He didn’t run wild like he did during the regular season on the bases, but what he did do was show that he could be patient and work walks once pitchers decided he was the one player in the lineup they wanted to avoid. He crushed left-handed pitching, he crushed right-handed pitching, he crushed anything and everything thrown his way and capped off one of the best minor league seasons for a Braves prospect in recent seasons. The 23 games in the AFL gave him 162 total played on the season, with 28 home runs, 208 hits, 98 RBI, 110 runs scored, 72 extra base hits, 44 stolen bases, and a .325/.379/.538 slash line. Wow.

Max Fried

26 IP, 15 H, 6 R, 5 ER, 8 BB, 32 K, 1.73 ERA

Max Fried stole the show for Peoria, finishing 3rd in the league in innings pitched, 6th in ERA, 1st in strikeouts, and 4th in WHIP. A 5 R/ 4 ER hiccup in his second-to-last outing aside, Fried was dominant in each of his outings and was a key piece to Peoria’s run to the championship. In addition to striking out batters Fried also kept the ball on the ground consistently. Taking a deeper look at some of the splits issues that plagued him in the regular season, and they simply weren’t there. He did strikeout slightly fewer right handed batters and had a higher walk rate, but kept the ball on the ground more often as well and neither right-handed hitters nor left-handed really had much of a chance. The 144 23 innings between the minor leagues, fall league, and Atlanta set his career high, and for him to ride his strong ending in 2017 into a dominant fall league performance despite that workload was a huge boost to the confidence meter going into next season. By all accounts his stuff matched the numbers, and the Braves patience in Fried seems to be trending towards paying off in massive dividends.

Touki Toussaint

8.2 IP, 7 H, 10 R, 10 ER, 7 BB, 14 K

Toussaint, fresh off a breakout performance in the regular season and a career high in innings pitched, was a bit of a surprise selection for me. Some of that wear and tear showed in the fall, and he showed a lot of inconsistency from game-to-game and didn’t get much playing time especially down the stretch. Unsurprisingly, when Toussaint struggled it revolved around his inability to locate. In the game he allowed 2 runs in showed in him leaving the ball up for 2 runs; in his other two games in which he allowed 5 runs and 3 runs and recorded just one out each he struggled to keep the ball in the zone and quickly imploded and had to be pulled. Still, despite those (mostly expected) growing pains there are mostly positive takeways for Toussaint. For the most part Touki controlled the ball well, and in his other 5 performances he didn’t allow a hit and only walked 2 batters in 7 innings. His strikeout rate was elite and outside of 3 home runs nobody really squared him up. Toussaint proved this fall that his stuff absolutely will play against top level competition, and if he continues to make the strides he did this season towards being a more consistent presence on the mound he should see a successful future with the Braves.

Alex Jackson

.263/.314/.513, 5 HR, 16 RBI, 23 K, 4 BB

It was a tale of two halves for Alex Jackson this fall, as his blistering start to the fall faded down the stretch to an awful ending to the season. Before I even get started with the numbers, Jackson played a career-high 96 games and played 56 games at catcher in his first action behind the plate since high school. He then went to the fall league and played almost exclusively behind the plate in his 20 games. Jackson’s body was tired, and fatigue was likely more a factor for him than any other Braves prospect this fall. Overall, his numbers were outstanding. It would have been nice to see better numbers down the stretch, but an .826 OPS is fantastic and another step forward for the young catcher. Over his first 10 games Jackson was nearly impossible to slow down as he hit .341/.400/.780, but over his last 4 games he failed to draw any walks, his strikeout rate jumped, and he hit just .179/.220/.231. The fall was a microcosm of his entire season, but one that despite his cold streaks was a breakout for him that far exceeded any performance he had with the Mariners. Jackson struggled at times behind the plate both with receiving and throwing out baserunners, but there were reports that he still flashed the talent to play behind the plate and it will simply be a matter of waiting for him to mature before we know if he can stick.

Austin Riley

.300/.364/.657, 6 HR, 18 RBIs, 21 K, 4 BB

Austin Riley had some trouble getting consistent playing time early in the fall league season, but wasted no time earning more playing time at third base and finished as one of the top bats in the league. Riley ranked second in the league in home runs and OPS, and first in slugging percentage as one of the leaders of the top offense (by a long way) in the league. Riley was a consistent presence and never faced a stretch of bad play. As well, reports raved on the progress of his defense which really puts him in a good position to make a splash for an organization who has still failed to find a suitable long term starter at the hot corner. If there is one complaint you could have for Riley, it’s that he did strike out a lot and didn’t draw many walks but with as hard as he hit the ball and as consistently as he made hard contact, his .348 BABIP doesn’t seem all that egregious. He’ll likely never hit .300 over the course of a full season, but if he can maintain a batting average around .260 then he really projects to be a solid starter at third base for the Braves.

Corbin Clouse

11 IP, 11 H, 10 R, 9 ER, 6 BB, 15 K, 7.36 ERA

Corbin Clouse had a roller coaster ride for a fall league, as in every outing he either gave up multiple runs or shut down the opponent. Inconsistencies aside, Clouse was hard to square up and maintained an attractive strikeout rate, ground ball rate, and batting average against. In fact, his numbers outside of his ERA were nearly identical (see below). Clouse’s struggles were the same they’ve been all season-when he keeps the ball in the zone he is a dominant arm, but when his control wavers he gives up hits and he walks batters and can quickly see his day unravel. Clouse’s best performance of the season came in his first game when he pitched 2 innings and didn’t allow a run with 3 strikeouts.

Regular Season vs AFL for Corbin Clouse

ERA- 2.53 to 7.36

K/9- 11.4 to 12.3

BB/9- 5.4 to 4.9

BAA- .239 to .244

HR/9- 0.3 to 0.8

GO/AO- 1.11 to 1.11

Josh Graham

10.1 IP, 16 H, 8 R, 8 ER, 2 BB, 11 K, 6.97 ERA

Josh Graham played 9 games in the Arizona Fall League, and was strong outside of two implosions during the season that drastically altered his numbers. In those two aforementioned performances Graham allowed 7 earned runs and walked 2 batters he in 2 13 innings. In the other 8 innings, Graham didn’t allow any walks and struck out 10 batters with one earned run allowed. Even outside of the 6 hits he allowed in those 2 games Graham struggled to work clean innings with a .356 BAA against overall and a horrific .455 BAA against right handed batters. This is not abnormal for Graham, as his best offspeed is a changeup and he does typically post reverse splits. Graham blew past his career high in innings pitched, so much of his struggles can be contributed to fatigue. He had much more consistent trouble keeping the ball down and avoiding fly balls, something he has done well and the past and would point to fatigue-related command issues.

Jared James

.250/.351/.375, 0 HR, 2 RBI, 9 K, 8 BB

Jared James was a quiet and consistent outfielder for Peoria, and though he didn’t have great numbers overall he always seemed to be on base. His strikeout to walk ratio was among the best in the fall league, and although he didn’t show much power he did enough to keep a reasonably good OPS. It’s clear that James’ offensive limitations with regards to power are going to prevent him from filling a starters role, but his showing that he can put up solid numbers against good competition is a nice step towards him earning a bench role down the road for the Braves. As long as he continues to make consistent contact he should be able to carve out a role in the major leagues even if it isn’t a major one.