What a 2019 it was for Ronald Acuña Jr.
It is often difficult for top prospects to live up to the hype. After all, fans are fans and they expect greatness from the very first swing. And after an impressive Rookie of the Year campaign kicked things off in 2018, Acuña continued to dazzle for the Braves while cementing himself as one of the best young players in the game.
Before we dig into his season, it’s worth touching on the eight-year, $100 million contract he signed in early April that can be extended out to 10 years and $124 million if the Braves choose to do so. It was a gigantic win for the Braves’ franchise and a remarkable payday for a guy who is just 21 years old. He opted to take the guaranteed money instead of play the arbitration and free agency game, and it wasn’t hard to fault him after signing for relative pennies as a teenager in Venezuela. FanGraphs wrote about just how staggering the deal was for both parties and later named Acuña as the No. 1 asset in baseball. If everything goes right, he will hit free agency at the old age of 31. Not a bad deal.
2019 Statline: .280/.365/.518, 126 wRC+, 41 HR, 101 RBI, 127 R, 37 SB, 5.6 WAR
What Went Right
What more can be said? Acuña continued to impress as the club’s primary leadoff hitter, tormenting opposing pitchers from the opening pitch of the game. He flirted with a historic 40-40 season and likely would have gotten there if not for a groin injury during the final week of the year. He crushed 41 homers and got on base at a 36.5% clip, often scurrying around the bases ahead of Ozzie Albies, Freddie Freeman and Josh Donaldson. He improved his walk rate to 10.6% and was rated as one of the game’s 4th best baserunner, per FanGraphs. He is a true do-it-all-and-more talent and the Braves are lucky to have him.
What Went Wrong
If there is an area to nitpick with Ronald’s game, it’s the strikeouts. While not really a problem, Acuña’s strikeout rate rose to 26% last season. With his elite speed and ability to hit the bejeezus out of the ball when he makes contact, ideally that number is a few ticks lower. Again, he isn’t quite Adam Dunn or Joey Gallo out there, but it would be nice to see an improvement in 2020.
There were also a couple of mental gaffs, but I will chalk that up to being 21 years old and having a ton of fun in the process. He’ll learn.
Acuña should be in the running for MVP consideration once again. It will be interesting to see where the Braves play him — a lot of that depends on what moves they make in the next five months — but Acuña has reportedly told the club he prefers right field if center field is not an option. One would assume the only way center opens up is with a trade of Ender Inciarte. Regardless, the Braves are in good hands with the young superstar.