Pa Pedro Moore
Posted by FOX Sports MLB
At the beginning of the 2019 season Atlanta Braves signed both Ronald Acuña Jr and Ozzy Olbiss, young people born in 1997, to a long-term extension for a period of 10 days. It felt like a new era was coming.
The Braves had just rebounded from four down seasons to win the 2018 National League East during Alex Antapoulos’ first season as general manager. Freddie Freemana cornerstone of the franchise throughout the lull, decided to team up with Acuña and Albies in shaping what the club hoped would be a consistent winner.
Atlanta did build a perennial winner under Anthopoulos, but not in the way anyone expected. Freeman is obviously a A clever man, after the saga we don’t need to come back here. The Braves won the World Series without Acuña a year ago, and in 2022 he returned from a torn ACL, he was only good, not great. Albies has been nothing short of average for three seasons now, and he’s been mediocre this year when he’s been healthy.
Ronald Acuña Jr.’s Impact on the Braves, MLB
Ben Verlander analyzes Ronald Acuña Jr.’s impact on the Atlanta Braves and how he continues to attract new fans to MLB.
Most likely, the Braves are winning because of a new crop of homegrown talent. An unexpected development is the third baseman Austin Riley, another child of 1997, arrived as a superstar. When Albies and Acuña signed extensions, Riley was still a prospect at Triple-A Gwinnett. He made his debut the following month, but played below-replacement baseball for the next two seasons.
A month into the 2021 season, Riley began hitting higher numbers. His improved patience has caused pitchers to attack him in the zone, and he’s been grabbing strikes. Over the past month, Riley made his first All-Star Game and signed his own extension — worth $212 million, more than 50% more than Albis and Acuña’s deals combined.
Riley is now the face of the Atlanta franchise like no other.
In addition to Riley, the Braves are banking on a player so young that he wasn’t in their organization when Albies and Acuña were signed. Center fielder Michael Harris IIBorn in 2001, he became the youngest player in the major leagues when he made his debut on Memorial Day weekend. In 2019, Atlanta drafted the hometown product in the third round. Due to the pandemic shutdown in 2020, he barely played professionally until 2021. The Braves promoted him after his 43rd game in Double-A, a decision so aggressive that it surprised Harris himself, his parents and many around the sport.
Aggressiveness turned out to be justified. Harris is a true center fielder that the Bruins have been missing for a long time, making their defense that much more impressive. He doesn’t walk much, but makes enough contact to use his speed. He also produces more power than he managed in the minors. As measured by Wins Above Replacement, he has been about as valuable to the Braves this season as Acuña and Albies combined.
The Braves made another aggressive decision last week, calling up Harris’ close friend and fellow 2019 draftee. Vaughn Grissomto staff second base, and Albie and replacement Orlando Arcia not out due to injury. with Tampa Bay‘s Tramp Frank currently injured, Grissom is behind only Harris as the second youngest active player in the sport.
In addition to a short-term positional patch, Grissom’s stay could also represent a test run regarding his readiness to replace the impending free agent shortstop Dansby Swanson next season. Grissom debuted in legendary fashion, homering off Fenway Park’s Green Monster for his first at-bat. Afterwards, he hugged Harris.
“I guess it was like a ‘We did it’ moment,” Grissom told reporters in Boston. “Kind of a ‘We did it’ feeling.”
Atlanta’s Michael Harris II and Spencer Strider highlight the top rookies
In June, Ben Verlander spotlighted Michael Harris II in his Head of the Class segment featuring MLB’s top rookies.
The two 21-year-olds are joined each night by another player who came in indirectly through recent drafts. In March, the Braves traded four of their top prospects for Oakland for Matt Olson, their chosen replacement for Freeman. Atlanta acquired two of those four prospects, including headliner Shea Langeliers, in the 2019 draft and another in the 2021 class.
It’s not a complete changing of the guard for the Braves. Ace is left-handed Max Fried precedes the 2019 team and is under club control for at least two more seasons. Perch is still only 24, and his abilities have not disappeared at all. Evaluators expect him to return to his best form in time.
But it may be a shift, and so far it’s working. Brave 13-1 threshing with Metz Monday was their seventh straight win. Atlanta may be too far behind the mighty Mets to win this year’s NL East title, but the Braves are a virtual certainty to qualify for postseason play for the fifth straight season. And thanks to their accurate drafting and rapid player development, they are set up to maintain that success. They have one of the sport’s youngest cores, much of which is under club control at below-market rates for years to come.
It all started in April 2019.
Pedro Moura is a national baseball writer for FOX Sports. He previously covered the Dodgers for three seasons for The Athletic and before that the Angels and Dodgers for five seasons for the Orange County Register and LA Times. He previously covered his alma mater, USC, for ESPNLosAngeles.com. The son of Brazilian immigrants, he grew up in suburban Southern California. His first book, How to Beat a Broken Game, was released this spring. Follow him on Twitter @pedromoura.
Get more from Major League Baseball Follow your favorites to stay updated on games, news and more.