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Saturday, November 26, 2022

Winter Leagues: Francisco Acuna Already Brings a Lot to the Table for a Young Player

Just one game on Monday night around all of winter ball, so we are going to go a little in depth about a prospect from Colombia.

In the only game on Monday, Starling Marte went 3-for-5 with his third double and two stolen bases. He now has five steals this winter in five attempts. Marte is hitting .233/.293/.378 through 24 games and has reached base safely eight times in his last three games.

On Sunday in Colombia, Francisco Acuna went 2-for-3 with a double, a hit-by-pitch and a sacrifice bunt. Through 22 games, the 17-year-old shortstop is hitting .254/.390/.343, with four doubles, a triple and 11 walks.

Acuna played winter ball in Colombia last year before he played his first game as a pro. At 16 years old, he was playing around much more experienced players, yet he was holding his own as his team’s everyday shortstop during the second half of the season. During the first half, he was in the Dominican with the Pirates for their version of the Fall Instructional League.

He then made his pro debut in the Dominican Summer League this year, where he hit .201/.386/.291 in 58 games. You would like to see a better average and more power obviously, but he finished third in the league in walks, went 19-for-22 in steals and he was the team’s regular shortstop. That earned him a trip to the Fall Instructional League in Bradenton back in September. Now he remains one of the youngest players in the Colombian league and  he’s still doing a great job of getting on base.

I wanted to see what helped Acuna get to where he is at such a young age, so I went to Edgar Varela, who is the Latin American Hitting Coordinator for the Pittsburgh Pirates. Acuna is not big, listed at 5’7″, 150 pounds, although he has probably filled out a little from his signing weight. He looks a little stronger from the early pictures I’ve seen and he still has some room to fill out. Since he is a small shortstop, you’re probably not going to get a lot of power out of him, especially if you want him to be athletic enough to remain at shortstop.

For him to be valuable on offense, he’s going to need to get on base often and use his speed. There won’t be many homers, but he could use his speed to pick up extra bases on balls down the line and in the gap. Acuna does a great job of getting on base already, but an overly patient approach could work against him in the upper levels, where better pitchers will throw more strikes. That was one of the concerns we had about him, so I asked Varela about Acuna’s approach at the plate and what type of player he could be in the future.

“He understands how to manage an at-bat and is beyond his age in maturity and baseball instincts,” Varela said. “I think as he matures and gets even more experience he has a chance to be a solid overall player. I think he understands as well that he has to be exceptional in all areas which is why he has tremendous work ethic and baseball IQ. He has to be that guy. Has a ways to go but has the drive to be that.”

I talked to Varela about a few players from the DSL recently and the reports seemed pretty straight forward. No searching for positives, either the guy has it or not, which you see when he said Acuna “has a chance to be a solid overall player” and he “has a ways to go”. So you like to see those reports about the baseball IQ, instincts, maturity and work ethic. It also helps explain how he is holding his own this winter in a league where most players his age rarely leave the bench.

As a recent example from our coverage, Tito Polo saw his first real action in Colombia as a 20-year-old after his solid showing in the GCL, but really didn’t do much in the league until the following year when he already had Low-A experience. Acuna is matching the 2015-16 Polo, while at a key defensive spot and he’s 3 1/2 years younger at the same point. The experience of playing against older players, some of them with Double-A experience, can only help him at this point. The fact that he is holding his own in the league is quite impressive and gives you hope that he can soon be a future top 50 prospect in the system.

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John started working at Pirates Prospects in 2009, but his connection to the Pittsburgh Pirates started exactly 100 years earlier when Dots Miller debuted for the 1909 World Series champions. John was born in Kearny, NJ, two blocks from the house where Dots Miller grew up. From that hometown hero connection came a love of Pirates history, as well as the sport of baseball.

When he didn't make it as a lefty pitcher with an 80+ MPH fastball and a slider that needed work, John turned to covering the game, eventually focusing in on the prospects side, where his interest was pushed by the big league team being below .500 for so long. John has covered the minors in some form since the 2002 season, and leads the draft and international coverage on Pirates Prospects. He writes daily on Pittsburgh Baseball History, when he's not covering the entire system daily throughout the entire year on Pirates Prospects.

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rjgrinde

Ahhh, the new Pirate prospect standard, “He has a chance to be solid”…what I wouldn’t give for an article about a lower level international prospect who’s ceiling is described higher than, “Eh, I don’t know, he could be alright I guess”. I am assuming since he was so blunt about players being good or bad and Acuna was mentioned for being “potentially OK” that everyone else was described as “why did you pay to sign this guy?”

john fluharty

Adam Eaton 5’8
Josh Harrison 5’8
Marcus Stroman 5’8
Mookie Betts 5’9 (24 HR)

IC Bob

Maitin to Angels and Del Rosario gone. Pirates still holding on to there money waiting for a who knows what.

tmcgowan

The one I really want now is Abrahan Gutierrez, here is write up as fangraphs had before

Abrahan Gutierrez, C – Gutierrez was one of the bigger names in Atlanta’s J2 class because his body matured sooner than his peers’. He lost some mobility as signing day approached, but he has enough defensive skill to remain at catcher long term provided he keeps his body in check and remain mobile. He turned 17 in October. Gutierrez has average raw arm strength that plays down because of how long it take Gutierrez to rise from his crouch, but that should be cleaned up, at least a bit, with instruction. Offensively, he has some pull power because of raw strength in his hands, but he lacks exceptional bat speed. He may never be more than a 40 hitter with 45 game power. If he can catch, however, that will play.

tmcgowan

AAAAND he is to the phillies

emjayinTN

The Phillies only had to pony up $550K to get Gutierrez. The Top 4 IMO were Maitan, del Rosario, Gutierrez, and Severino. I think John Dreker liked Soto who was also signed by the Angels and KC signed del Rosario.

Do the Pirates still have $2.2 mil in their 2017 pool? These are not 16 year olds – these are 17 and 18 year olds, many of whom have already played in the GCL or higher.

rjgrinde

Yep they do. You knew this was going to happen. The Pirates will not spend a dime on any of these players I promise you that. The only thing I can think of is they are waiting for the battle for Ohtani to a point where it is down to two teams and one team needs more money to put them over the top and the Pirates will leverage them for a good return in exchange for the Pirates international pool. Two problems I see with that though. One, the idea of a good return to NH is different than just about everyone else’s so he will probably blow that. Two, that takes a bit of foresight which the Pirates have shown a severe lack off the past three years. Most likely they end up hoarding the money to the end of this signing period and pick up a bunch of the scraps cheap then drop them 3 years from now. It is also possible since they recently fired their head of international scouting they don’t have anyone even trying that also sounds very Pirate-y.

freddylang
joe s

The Pirates have the next Altuve in Acuna!

TNBucs

One great thing that Altuve has done is to open the door for under-sized players. A few years ago I would have been pretty dismissive of a prospect under 5’10”, say. I was even skeptical about the hype surrounding Altuve as a prospect. But he’s opened my mind about who can be successful, and I’m sure that’s true even for people working in front offices.

leefoo

Let’s hope that he develops into a star like his brother, Ronald. 🙂

RobForsyth

How much taller is he likely to get? If he’s only 17 he might still add several inches.

Michael Sanders

6’7″

Darkstone42

I think I grew a solid 2 inches in that span, but I fell a full 4 inches shy of what my orthopod projected when I had x-rays that one time, but I’m not sure if that’s because between then and the end of my growing years, I suffered a number of injuries to my joints. I think there was some NBA player back in the day who added about 6 inches in college. A famous big-man. Ewing, maybe? I don’t remember.

I think men grow until they’re 21 or so, so he could add some height. Knowing how big his family is would give some insight on whether or not that could be expected, though.

john fluharty

I didn’t grow an inch after age 16, but my coworker grew 4 inches after high school.

jedeweese

Robinson from Navy, he did OK in the NBA (ya think?)

Darkstone42

That’s it, thank you.

piraddict

Height isn’t as important as contact skills and bat speed. We’d take an Altuve II from Acuna wouldn’t we?

freddylang

I would take half of Altuve’s offensive production and be happy.

Michael Sanders

No thank you. We’ve already seen players that can bat a cool. .119 😉

beaverjp

Acuna just needs to chug some 5hr energy

bradlej31

Correct. Altuve is best example

Travis P

I grew 7 inches in college on burgers, pizza, and the weight room (ok, that adds no height). The 3 pillars of the early adult years.

john fluharty

Curious- what height did you start out at and where did you finish?

Travis P

5’4 to 5’11. I went from baby point guard to just…normal looking white guard who couldn’t walk right in college. lol

leefoo

I bet your clothing allowance went through the roof. 🙂

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