Braves top prospect Ronald Acuña leaning on Ozzie Albies’ advice

ATLANTA — Johan Camargo screamed into the phone and his agent switched flights from Orlando to Atlanta, but perhaps nobody enjoyed Ozzie Albies’ major-league promotion last August more than Ronald Acuña.

The Atlanta Braves’ superstar prospect joined Albies, another former amateur free-agent signing who rocketed up through the minors, at Triple-A Gwinnett last summer during his meteoric rise that eventually landed him Baseball America’s Minor-League Player of the Year honors. The two phenoms are close and looking to quickly become teammates once again, which appears to be only matter of time.

The moment the 20-year-old infielder’s phone rang, the countdown began for the 19-year-old outfielder to follow in his footsteps.

“Now hopefully it’s my turn,” said Acuña, who posted an .896 OPS across three levels last season. “I’m just waiting for my chance and hopefully we can be reunited and playing on the field together again.”

It’s no secret that Albies and Acuña will play together in 2018, as both are prominent figures in the franchise’s future optimism. In his two-month burst to end the major-league season, Albies was one of the best rookies in baseball — finishing 12th in wins above replacement among first-year players despite playing in just 57 games, producing at an elite offensive pace for his age — and Acuña is considered a Rookie of the Year candidate before facing a single major-league pitch.

In the interim, the younger standout, the one who was offered a babysitter when his roommate was promoted, is leaning on the older edition’s advice.

“I feel like everything he’s learned he’s shared with me right away,” said Acuña, who mentioned that he and Albies spoke throughout the offseason but did not see each other in person until this weekend. “I’m very grateful to have him there advising me, guiding me along the way.”

The expectations placed on Acuña are sky-high.

The outfielder was the headlining asking price in Christian Yelich trade talks before the Miami Marlins shipped the young star to Milwaukee this past week. New general manager and executive vice president of baseball operations Alex Anthopoulos understands that there are inherent risks to betting on prospects over established players, but shipping a potential cornerstone — a player Chipper Jones has called the “next (Mike) Trout, the next (Bryce) Harper” — creates similar reluctance.

“We’ll find out if we’re right as an organization,” Anthopoulos said. “I’ve never seen him play. But there are people who really feel strongly about him. It’d take a lot to trade him. Do I believe in anyone being untradable? No. But if you think you have a middle-of-the-diamond guy, with six years of control, upside; that’s a really tough guy to move.”

Now the waiting game begins.

Given his talent level and Atlanta’s available options, there’s a chance the Venezuelan product could lead all Braves outfielders in value and production in 2018 — and yet he may not make the 25-man roster out of camp due to service time considerations. (If the Braves delay Acura’s promotion long enough, for whatever given reason, they stand to gain an additional year of club control a la the Cubs’ tactic with Kris Bryant.) Acuña understands the financial considerations at work.

“I’ve talked to a couple people and I think the debate of if they had me down in (Triple-A) Gwinnett for two weeks or a month or whatever, how that works contractually and the benefits for the team on that. I try not to focus on any of that.

“My goal is to just compete for the roster spot and hopefully make the team.”

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