MLB.com Columnist

Jonathan Mayo

Braves' Acuna, Riley go back-to-back for Peoria

Braves' Acuna, Riley go back-to-back for Peoria

SURPRISE, Ariz. -- They first played together back in 2015, when both were making their pro debuts in the Braves system. They moved to full-season ball as a duo in 2016 and both began the year together in the Florida State League in 2017. And now both are excelling in the Arizona Fall League. There is no question that Ronald Acuna and Austin Riley have each other's backs.

That was particularly true in the sixth inning of Peoria's 9-2 win in Surprise against the Saguaros on Tuesday. Acuna, the Braves' top prospect and No. 5 overall, hit a two-run homer off of Twins No. 8 prospect Tyler Jay. Riley promptly followed up with a solo shot of his own. The Braves pair accounted for five of Peoria's 15 hits as the Javelinas improved to a league-best 11-7.

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"We've been playing together since rookie ball," said Acuna, who went 3-for-5 and finished a triple shy of the cycle. "It's exciting to see your teammates doing that, too, and us having a good game together."

"It's amazing," Riley said about Acuna. "He's just natural. Opposite field, pull the ball, he does it all. It's unbelievable."

The Javelinas offense overall has been fairly hard to believe this fall. Peoria tops the league in virtually every offensive category, including batting average (.303) and an OPS (.880) that is more than 100 points higher than any other team. The three home runs the Javelinas hit on Tuesday -- Padres outfielder Franmil Reyes homered to open the scoring -- gives them 24 in 18 games. The next closest team is Glendale with 15.

Braves Top 30 Prospects

"It's fun," Riley said. "These guys are unbelievable, they can all hit, one through nine. You never know when there's going to be a home run. It's amazing, you're never out of it. We always feel we have a chance to come back. It's fun to be around."

Reyes' solo homer in the second inning got things going. It came right after a pitch Reyes had fouled off and appeared to have gotten injured from. After being checked out by the trainer, Reyes drilled Rangers starting pitcher Tyler Davis' next offering out of the park, though Reyes came out of the game after that.

Acuna's infield single in the third helped give Peoria a brief 2-0 lead. After Padres No. 3 prospect Luis Urias (No. 48 overall) walked and Blue Jays outfielder Jonathan Davis singled him to second, Rangers third baseman Luis La O rushed his throw to try and get the speedy Braves outfielder. When the ball got by Cardinals first baseman John Nogowski, Urias was able to score.

The Saguaros tied in the bottom of that inning when Rangers outfielder Michael O'Neill launched a two-run homer off of Red Sox starter Henry Owens. Unfortunately for the Saguaros, that would be all of the offense they would muster for the afternoon.

The Javelinas, however, were far from done. The three-run sixth spearheaded by Acuna and Riley put the game away, and they added two more in the ninth for good measure. Acuna is now batting .377 with a 1.160 OPS for the AFL season. This latest performance comes on the heels of earning league Player of the Week honors.

"I'd like to thank God for everything that I'm doing right now," Acuna said. "I'm really happy and excited. That's what I do. I come and play hard every day and hope for the best."

Acuna on win, Fall success

Riley, for his part, raised his average to .342 with his 2-for-4 showing and now leads the AFL with his 1.208 OPS. Both he and Acuna now have four homers for the fall, trailing only their organization-mate Alex Jackson, who has five. The Braves third base prospect wasn't even supposed to be in the lineup, a last-minute replacement for Red Sox third baseman Michael Chavis, who was under the weather. His home run easily cleared the 400-foot marker in center field.

"Chavis wasn't feeling 100 percent," Riley said. "I always come to the field ready to play, no matter what.

"He went curveball away for a strike, then he went back to a slider," Riley said of Jay's pitch sequencing in the sixth. "I was sitting fastball and reacting, tried to stay through it and was able to put it out."

Jonathan Mayo is a reporter for MLBPipeline.com. Follow him on Twitter @JonathanMayo and Facebook, and listen to him on the weekly Pipeline Podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.