MINORS: The Eyes have it—Austin Riley & Ronald Acuna

The Atlanta Braves spent 25 years in contention. No team enjoyed as much regular season success. After a poor 2014 campaign, it was time for management to tear down the foundation of the club and reconstruct the organization from the ground up.

The Braves started by replacing the front office. Then, the front office tore down the roster, attempting to rebuild a farm system lacking talent and depth. Through the draft, international free agency and trades, the Braves have rebuilt their foundation. Their farm system is one of the best in baseball. However, outside of top prospects Dansby Swanson (scouting report) and Ozhaino Albies (scouting report), there isn't prospects too close to fix a team bleeding a lack of offense. The next wave of position prospects are far away. Let's take a look at two Single-A prospects, third baseman Austin Riley and outfielder Ronald Acuna.

Austin Riley (3B, ATL)
#9 Braves prospect (Pre-season)
Dates Seen: 04/08/16, 04/09/16 & 04/22/16

The Atlanta Braves drafted Austin Riley with the 41st pick of the 2015 amateur draft. In his professional debut, he torched Rookie ball pitching. In 60 games split between the Braves' Gulf Coast League and Appalachian League affiliates, Riley slashed .304/.389/.544, displaying plus-plus raw power. He hit 12 HRs, relatively unheard of from a 18-year-old prospect straight out of high school. He became the prospect diehard Braves fans wanted to talk about. Has he lived up to the hype in full-season ball?

At 6'3'', 220 lbs, Riley is a powerful man. His power tool shined during a scouted BP session. A stiff wind in from center couldn't stop balls from leaving the yard. Riley's uppercut swing generates natural loft at the point of contact. His tree-trunk base generates tremendous amounts of power, especially with his hips firing through the zone. Riley's power tool is suited to be a MLB masher, capable of hitting 25 HRs. However, his hit tool depresses those power capabilities.

Riley swing is slow. No scouted top prospects has a swing any slower. As evidence in the video, Riley's issues start from the swing's onset. His hands drift down, slowing the path his hands take to the trigger position. As Riley begins his swing, instead of his hands driving through the baseball, his hands go out and around. This causes his swing to elongate. In the scouted at bats, Riley was regularly over-powered by fastballs.

Do you remember hitting in little league and getting jammed because you got beat by the pitch? Watch the game swings from Riley. Due to the hitch in his trigger and his elongated swing, the pitcher lives in Riley's kitchen. He's consistently behind 40-grade fastballs. Bump that up to big league velocity, it's even worse. To catch up, Riley will cheat, starting his swing early to catch up to the fastball. This approach leaves Riley susceptible to off-speed pitches.

It's funny, searching for a comp, Dodgers relief pitcher Pedro Baez's named popped up. Before becoming a reliever, Baez was a third base prospect, spending parts of 3 seasons in Double-A. The Dodgers gave Baez every opportunity to breakout from his struggles. They even reworked his swing. Baez struggled making contact with pitches in front of the plate. He was repeatedly beat by fastballs in his kitchen, which caused his raw plus-power never to develop.

Defensively, Riley is better than he's given credit for. He reacts well to batted balls and, despite poor footwork, shows good lateral body control. His poor footwork makes coming in on grounders difficult. Many teams liked Riley as a pitcher more than a hitter. His plus arm strength is valuable at third. 

I've seen few prospects with slow swing issues make it to the big leagues. Of those hitters, only Mets utility player Eric Campbell currently occupies a MLB roster spot. Luckily, for Riley, his tools are loud and age is on his side. A rework of his swing is necessary to reach any MLB ceiling. For fantasy owners, take South Atlantic League numbers with a grain of salt. Although he's struggled out of the gate, Riley could break out of his funk and have a solid season. He's toolsy enough to rack up huge numbers feasting on mediocre fastballs in the South Atlantic League. His true test will come once he's in Double-A. For now, stay clear of Riley in most fantasy formats.

Ronald Acuna (OF, ATL)
Unranked Braves prospect (Pre-season)
Dates Seen: 04/08/16, 04/09/16 & 04/22/16

Ronald Acuna is the best prospect on the Rome Braves this season. Granted, I've yet to see Mike Soroka pitch. Until then, I'll rank Acuna over everyone else, especially the other position prospects. This is high praise for a prospect who essentially flew under the radar of every prospect media outlet this offseason. Writing up the Braves farm system for the Minor League Baseball Analyst, I talked to a contact about the Braves' Appalachian League Danville affiliate. My contact liked Acuna but wasn't wowed by any specific tool. It's not one tool making Acuna a good prospect, it's the sum of all his parts.

Like Riley, Acuna's power peaked my interest during BP, but for a different reason. Riley has a loud power tool, Acuna's is more subtle. Throughout BP, despite his 6'0'', 180 lb frame, he hit several balls off the RCF wall. It may not seem like a big deal but few hitters can showcase that type of power to the opposite field at this level, even in BP. Acuna didn't hit towering fly balls, they were liners. His slightly uppercut swing generates some natural backspin but not enough to be a prototypical HR hitter. We're talking 10-15 HR potential, staying with his line drive approach. So far, power hasn't presented itself outside of controlled settings.

Acuna's swing is very simple. His hands take a direct path back to the trigger position, readying to unleash his above-average bat speed on pitches. When everything is firing correctly, Acuna has a short, compact swing, gaining good extension at the point of contact. His swing is only primed for the fastball. Like most young hitters, he struggles reading off-speed pitches. He extends too early on the change ups and lunges forward against breaking balls low and especially away.

Always busting out of the batter's box, Acuna greatest tool is a 65-grade run tool. As you can see in the video clips, he is in a hurry to get to first on every fair ball. His baserunning skills are raw. Acuna gets to full speed faster than most non-elite runners and is able to swipe more bags because he can outrun the catcher's arm. With time, Acuna will become a better base stealer. His speed also aids him in the field. A centerfielder, Acuna struggles with reads and route running. His foot speed makes up for taking inefficient routes to fly balls. His arm plays throughout the outfield if his route running never improves.

Ozhaino Albies was an 18-year-old on the Rome Braves last year. Now 19, he's knocking on the big league door in Triple-A Gwinnett. Acuna isn't moving as swiftly. While he is more mature than most South Atlantic League teenagers, his makeup isn't in Albies' company. Acuna's skillset warrants attention, he needs time. The tools are there to become a .285 hitter, slug 10-15 HRs and steal 25-35 bases. Hard-working raw prospects who bust it on every grounder tend to succeed at reaching their ceilings. Fantasy owners should get to know Acuna. He could someday win you a championship.

Click here to subscribe

  For more information about the terms used in this article, see our Glossary Primer.