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Ronald Acuna and the significance of being baseball’s top prospect

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Braves super prospect Ronald Acuna was named the number one overall prospect by Baseball America, but what does that mean for his career?

Peoria Javelinas v Mesa Solar Sox Photo by Jennifer Stewart/Getty Images

As Baseball America released their top 100 prospects list Monday morning Braves fans were sent into a frenzy after it was revealed that Ronald Acuna had snagged the honor of being named the number one overall prospect in baseball. Acuna continues a tradition of Braves to be named number one overall prospects since Baseball America started releasing their prospect lists in 1990. In the nearly 30 years since the first BA top 100 was released a Braves prospect has graced the number one slot a record 6 times with the next closest team(s) being the Nationals and Twins with 3 times each.

So what exactly is the big deal about being ranked number one on Baseball America’s top prospects list? Well historically players that have been named number one prospects have gone on to have star level careers. According to Fangraphs WAR totals only once in history has a number one overall prospect posted a negative career WAR total(Todd Van Poppel). There are several active former number one prospects in baseball today among the elite of the elite and in 2018 Ronald Acuna will look to join that group.

Acuna will be the first Braves player to be number one overall since Jason Heyward in 2010 and for good reason as Acuna has posted some absurd numbers in the minor leagues since 2015. He has not posted below a 135 wRC+ at any stop in the minor leagues all culminating up to his 2017 season between AA Mississippi and AAA Gwinnett. Acuna in 57 games with Mississippi hit .326/.374/.520 with 9 home runs and a 159(!) wRC+ and the crazy thing is he got even better after being promoted to Gwinnett where he hit .344/.393/.548 with 9 more home runs and a 162(!) wRC+ in 54 games. For comparison Acuna put up numbers between AA and AAA that would translate to being a 6+ WAR player. Baseball America recognized quickly that Acuna is baseball’s next big thing and rewarded him with the number one prospect ranking and some of the most ridiculous grades on the 20-80 scale since it was introduced. Acuna’s hit tool is ranked a 60 which is considered plus, his power tool, speed tool and fielding tool are all ranked 70’s which is considered plus-plus and his arm is a 60 as well to top it all off.

Now I did note earlier that Acuna is just the latest in a long line of Braves to be former number one overall prospects with the most recent being Jason Heyward. Heyward at 28 years old is the owner of a 30.2 career WAR total and recently helped the Cubs to break a 108 year title drought bringing home his first championship ring. Heyward over the last two seasons has suffered from swing problems, some bad luck with BABIP and has been ridiculed for not playing up to the high standard of his huge contract, but through it all is definitely still a top player in the game today. Before Heyward it was Braves legend Andruw Jones that Baseball America donned the number one prospect in baseball for consecutive years in 1996-97. Jones of the career WAR total of 67.1 is the one player seemingly everyone compares Acuna to for their likeness of elite defense and big time home run power. Before Andruw Jones it was Chipper Jones to be named BA’s number one prospect for the Braves. Chipper with the career WAR total of 84.6 (see a trend here?) is looking to join baseball’s legends this offseason with a selection to the Hall of Fame. The first Brave to ever be named BA’s number one was Steve Avery who showed flashes and still totaled a career WAR of 19.6 in 13 seasons but could never pull everything together after leaving the Braves in 1996.

Other number one overall prospects for Baseball America include the likes of the games best players today such as Kris Bryant, Bryce Harper, Byron Buxton and Corey Seager. Since Baseball America’s rankings began in 1990 former number one overall prospects have combined to post approximately 700 WAR (25 players). There are only 3 former number one prospects to never post a WAR above 0 and 16 of the 25 former number ones have a career WAR in double digits. What this all means is that Baseball America has a good track record when it comes to recognizing young star potential and for 2018 it is Ronald Acuna that BA has chosen and that should make Braves fans very excited for what is in store.