SURPRISE, Ariz — There is going to be a day — sooner rather than later, that is — when the Atlanta Braves are the talk of the baseball world.
That might be tricky to imagine, especially after the 2017 Braves just turned in their fourth consecutive losing season, a 72-90 campaign in which they missed the playoffs by a 25-game margin.
But the revamped, Baby Braves are coming. Atlanta is getting a glimpse of the future on a nightly basis through the Arizona Fall League, courtesy of their contingent of prospects who are lighting up the league.
Take the Peoria Javelinas’ wild, 11-10 win against the Surprise Saguaros on Saturday, for example.
Max Fried, the ninth-ranked prospect in the game’s second-best farm system, made his sixth Fall League start. He twirled three scoreless innings, while striking out three on just one hit. His 1.73 ERA, 23 innings pitched and six starts leads the Peoria staff, while his 32 strikeouts is currently the league-best.
Fried had a cup of coffee with the big-league squad in 2017, making four stars and compiling a 1-1 record and 3.81 ERA.
“I just try to think it’s a 0-0 game the whole time and try to keep myself mentally locked in, and from there stick with what’s going for me that night,” Fried said after his Saturday night start.
Ronald Acuna, the super prospect at the forefront of Atlanta’s system, launched two home runs Saturday and drove in three. He’s now batting at an impressive .329 clip in 20 games for the Javelinas. His seven homers this fall surpass (guess who?) teammate Austin Riley for the league lead.
“Be ready to hit a fastball, but eventually he threw me a changeup and I was able to take advantage and hit a home run,” Acuna said of his second inning solo shot.
The 20-year-old Riley slashed .275/.339/.446 in a powerful 2017 across two different levels in the minors. Despite an 0-for-6 performance Saturday, he’s batting .302 and leads his squad with 16 runs batted in. He hit for the cycle on October 26, the first to do so since Logan Morrison in 2008.
That leaves Alex Jackson as the final ranked Braves prospect in the AFL. Back behind the plate after an attempted switch to the outfield, Jackson trails Riley and Acuna for the league home run lead with five blasts of his own. At 21-years old, his power bat will put on quite the firework display at SunTrust Park for years to come.
Get used to a different feel, a makeover even, to Atlanta baseball over the next year or two when the youngsters grace major league stardom. Gone are the days of dwelling at the bottom half of the National League East, and hello October.
The Braves were once perennial winners, reaching the postseason fourteen times from 1991-2005 that included four World Series appearances. Their last showing came in 2013, when they were bumped out in the NLDS by the Los Angeles Dodgers in four games.
The city, the organization and fans are ready to flip the script and return to their winning ways.
“There’s a lot of really good talent in the minors, and it’s only just scratching the surface,” said Fried.
They appear to be in good hands with Fried, Acuna, Riley and Jackson being cornerstone pieces of the nearly-completed rebuild.
“Ronald tonight. You got Alex and Austin, they’re both, five, six home runs. I’m so happy for them, it’s been a really long year and we’re just trying to finish out strong.”