The Atlanta Braves have reassigned top prospect Ronald Acuna to minor league camp in a move that likely allows the organization to gain an extra year of contractual control over the outfield phenom.
The Braves will have to keep Acuna, 20, in the minors until April 13 in order to limit his service time for 2018 and prevent him from becoming a free agent until 2024. Acuna, who has been Atlanta's best player this spring, would have hit free agency a year earlier had he made the Braves' Opening Day roster.
Acuna was one of six players reassigned to the Braves' minor league camp and likely will start the season at Triple-A Gwinnett, where he batted .344 with nine home runs in 54 games last year.
"We feel like it would probably be best overall, from a philosophical standpoint, to give him more development time," Braves general manager Alex Anthopoulos said. "There's no manual on how to handle a player's development. They're not all the same."
Although the move was expected, Acuna entered Monday leading the Grapefruit League with a .432 batting average and also had four home runs, 11 RBIs and four stolen bases in 16 spring training games. He also had 19 hits, a .519 on-base percentage and a .727 slugging percentage in spring training.
"Our No. 1 priority is going to be the development of each player because you want them, when they're up here, to stay up here for long, productive careers and hopefully not have the yo-yo of going up and down," Anthopoulos said.
A native of Venezuela, Acuna batted .325 with 21 homers, 82 RBIs and 44 stolen bases across three minor league levels in the Braves' system last year.
"We said we would keep an open mind, but what we did talk a lot about was he ran through the minor leagues last year," Anthopoulos said. "Having more development time, no one's ever been hurt by that."
Acuna also was named the MVP of the Arizona Fall League last year, becoming the youngest player in league history to receive the award. He recently was rated as baseball's No. 1 overall prospect by ESPN's Keith Law, Baseball America and Baseball Prospectus.
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.