Bill Shanks

Acuna and Albies giving the Braves two legitimate stars

The Atlanta Braves' Ronald Acuna Jr., in action against the Philadelphia Phillies on April 27, is a key component of the Braves’ rebuilding effort.
The Atlanta Braves' Ronald Acuna Jr., in action against the Philadelphia Phillies on April 27, is a key component of the Braves’ rebuilding effort. AP

Ronald Acuna has played for the Atlanta Braves for one week, and the 20-year-old already has some making plans for Cooperstown in the summer of 2043. It’s fun to have a star player that you believe could be something special for the next decade or two, and Acuna fills that role perfectly, at least so far.

Don’t forget about Ozzie Albies. The 21-year-old might be on the podium the same day as Acuna. Fans are falling in love with Albies with each game, as he continues to hit home runs at a remarkable rate.

Okay, so Cooperstown is a bit premature. It’s fun to think about, though. It’s fun to think that the last time the Braves did a rebuild, they had two future Hall of Famers – Tom Glavine and John Smoltz – in the farm system. Those two certainly helped the Braves be special in the 1990s.

So now, Acuna and Albies could be the combo to help the Braves make the 2020s special, and heck, why wait for two years from now. This season has gone pretty well through the first month.

Having a prospect emerge as a star tremendously helps a rebuild. Think about it. When a team makes the decision to rebuild, it hopes several of the prospects it drafts, signs or trades for become special.

Let’s look at the last two significant baseball rebuilds that resulted in great success. The Cubs drafted Kris Bryant with a first-round pick in 2013. He would debut two years later and become an immediate All-Star.

The Cubs also had Anthony Rizzo, who had been acquired in a 2012 trade, and Addison Russell, who was brought over in a deal in 2014. Chicago took those three key infield pieces and complemented them with veteran free agents Jon Lester, John Lackey and Dexter Fowler.

That nucleus gave Cubs fans their first World Series in over 100 years. Bryant, at the forefront of it all with that draft pick, grabbed the final out in Game Seven against the Indians to seal the title. He was the star the Cubs desperately needed.

The next season, last year, the Astros won the World Series completing a drastic rebuild. Jose Altuve debuted in 2011 and became their main star. George Springer was drafted in 2011 and debuted in 2014, and then Carlos Correa was the top pick of the 2012 draft and debuted in 2015. Finally, they added Alex Bregman with an early pick in the 2015 draft and he was up in 2016.

Houston took those four key pieces and complemented them with veteran free agents Carlos Beltran, Brian McCann and Charlie Morton.

That nucleus gave Astros fans their first World Series ever. Altuve, at the forefront of it all by being there for the entire rebuild, grabbed the final out in Game Seven against the Dodgers to seal the title. He was the star the Astros desperately needed.

See what these teams did? They took top prospects, let them develop and then brought in veterans to get them over the top. The Braves did the same thing 27 years ago when they signed Terry Pendleton, Sid Bream and Rafael Belliard to help the young pitchers have experience, stability and defense. That worked out well.

Acuna and Albies are in line to be Atlanta’s new stars, with Freddie Freeman, Ender Inciarte and Dansby Swanson the supporting cast. Hard to believe Freeman may be a supporting cast member with what Acuna and Albies are doing so far.

And there are more to come. Austin Riley could take over at third base this summer. There are currently three pitchers in Triple-A (Mike Soroka, Kolby Allard and Luiz Gohara) and one in Double-A (Kyle Wright) who could be ready to join the rotation in the next 12 months. It’s only going to get more interesting when the other potential stars make it to Atlanta.

If you’ve enjoyed the past week of Braves baseball, it might only be a sign of things to come. With the talent being assembled, the rebuild is working. Maybe at some point Acuna or Albies will be grabbing the last out for the Braves in a Game Seven World Series win.

Listen to “The Bill Shanks Show” from 3-7 p.m. weekdays on “Middle Georgia’s ESPN” – 93.1 FM in Macon and 99.5 FM in Warner Robins. Follow Bill at twitter.com/BillShanks and email him at thebillshanksshow@yahoo.com.

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