Spring training is a fun time of year for a lot of reasons and for me, it’s a great time of year because this is the period where you can just let your optimism run completely and utterly unchecked. Whether you’re a good team that has high hopes for a World Series run or a rebuilding team that’s taking glimpses of prospects and pinning your hopes for the future on those tiny flashes of talent, it’s always a good time to be a baseball fan.
It’s an especially good time to be a fan of the Braves. They have a World Series win that’s still a little fresh in the memory and they’re coming off of a 2022 campaign that saw them win their fifth-consecutive divisional title with 101 wins despite only being in first place for a grand total of nine days. The Braves also figure to be in or around the conversation for further glory for the foreseeable future thanks to all of the contract extensions they’ve handed out over the past couple of years. It feels good knowing that unless a complete and utter catastrophe happens, the Braves are probably going to be good for a long while.
It’s especially encouraging when you see stories like the one I’m about to talk about. Jayson Stark of The Athletic recently wrote an article that turned my head. I’m sure it turned other people’s heads as well and how could it not when you have not one, not two, but three guys who are suddenly being mentioned in the same breath as the illustrious 40/40 Club? Here’s a bit from Stark’s article (and I highly recommend subscribing to The Athletic if you haven’t already):
So that’s 50-50 for [Ronald] Acuña, and 40-40 for [Ozzie] Albies, huh? Then what, we asked, was [Michael] Harris going to do? For the record, he had 19 homers and 20 steals last year as a rookie, or 24/31 if you include his 43 games in the minor leagues. So is he headed for 30-30?
“40-40,” Albies retorted confidently.
C’mon. He’s going 40-40, too?
“Why not?” Albies replied. “He’s a speedster. Plus, he has power. So 40-40, that would be great. That would be amazing.”
We wanted to make sure we had this straight: 40-40, 40-40, 40-40? Is that what he was saying?
“Why not?” Albies said. “I guess that’s history right there.”
So if that happened, we told Albies, and his team really did have three 40-40 guys, we could promise one thing for sure: The Braves definitely would be the talk of baseball.
“Why not?” he said again. “Why not? Nothing is impossible.”
So, let’s identify this for what it is: This type of talk only a hop, skip, and a jump away from basically any baseball player showing up to camp and telling the first reporter that he sees that he’s currently in the best shape of his life. This is as much a symptom of spring optimism as stuff like guys going on hot streaks during exhibition games and believing that this means that they’re going to hit .400 with 83 home runs during the regular season. Yeah, they’re probably going to come back down to Earth once the games actually start to count, but it’s still fun to dream about what could happen, right?
This story in particular is an especially fun dream to think about. Jayson Stark mentioned it in his article (again, I highly recommend that you subscribe to The Athletic. No, they’re not paying me, I’m just saying) but it has to be mentioned here: The 40/40 Club is no small feat. It’s only been done four times in baseball history — we’ve seen guys hit 60 home runs in a season more often than we’ve seen guys hit 40 dingers and nab 40 bases in the same season. It’s an absurdly rare achievement and to say that three guys on the same team could do it in the same season is utterly preposterous.
With that being said, is it really impossible? If this was during those beautiful days of the 1980s when even stealing a whopping 60 bases would only get you laughed at by Rickey Henderson, then maybe I could see it happening. Right now, the game’s changed dramatically since then and it’s pretty difficult to see even one of the three aforementioned players pulling off the feat — much less all three of them.
That doesn’t mean that it’s out of the question for Ronald Acuña Jr., though. Acuña nearly pulled off the incredible feat back in the 2019 season and the dynamo almost got 30 stolen bases in a 2022 campaign where he was clearly still struggling with returning to 100% form following his knee injury in 2021. So with that in mind, I think that Acuña could absolutely swipe 40 bags this season.
As far as the home runs are concerned, that depends on whether or not he can get his batted balls back into the air. Acuña had a ground ball rate of nearly 48 percent last year, which was a career-high for him. This was after he had a career-low ground ball percentage of just 31 percent in 2021. Basically, when you look at his batted ball profile, it's pretty clear to see when Acuña was healthy and when he was bouncing back from injury.
Simply put, if Acuña bounces back to the form that he was in before his injury, then a 40/40 season would certainly be in play for him and I think we'd all be thrilled to follow him on that journey to potentially joining the exclusive club. Any season where Ronald Acuña Jr. gets to do this 40 or more times is a wonderful season and here's hoping that we see it happen.
When it comes to Ozzie Albies and Michael Harris II, the path becomes a bit murkier. If Ozzie could go on a tear and have his best season at the plate, then it's possible for him to mash 40 homers in any given season of his prime. The main issue for Ozzie is his baserunning — outside of 2021, he's never really been a prolific base stealer and he's not the main speed demon on this team. Ozzie's sprint speed has never been truly elite, so he and the Braves would really have to pick and choose their opportunities when it comes to Ozzie. I don't think that would be a situation amenable for having the chances to go for 40 stolen bases.
Michael Harris II doesn't have the speed issue that Ozzie has — he actually placed in the 95th percentile of qualified base runners in 2022 when it came to sprint speed. Naturally, this led the reigning NL Rookie of the Year nabbing 20 bags last season. He's got the speed to be a serious threat on the basepaths and if he gets the green light then it's entirely possible that he could double that tally in an exceptionally good season.
As far as a 40-homer season goes, I don't think that would be in the cards for him this season. He's definitely got the pop to be taken seriously as a power hitter — his isolated power number in 2022 was a threatening .217 and it's easy to see that number going up as he further develops as a big league hitter. As far as this season is concerned, I could see it happening if his batted ball profile changes significantly and goes from having a ground ball rate in the 50-percent range to having a fly ball percentage in the 30s or 40s. He's not quite there yet and it would be a very pleasant shock if he reached that point this season.
Then we have to consider if Brian Snitker himself would even give all three of these players the green light to go crazy on the basepaths. As Jayson Stark pointed out in the article, we could see it happen depending on how the Braves decide to approach the new rules concerning both the number of mound disengagements (pickoff attempts, in particular) and the larger bases. So far, the Braves have decided that they're going to use spring training to test the limits of what they can do and it's translated to Atlanta joining the Reds at the top of the stolen base leaderboards with 17 so far. Who knows if that pace is going to continue but if it does, then I'm honestly looking forward to seeing the aggressiveness on the basepaths going forward.
Again, it would be amazing if even one of the three aforementioned players earned themselves the golden ticket to the 40-40 Club and if we're keeping it real then only one of these players has a genuine shot at the feat. With that being said, it would be incredibly fun to see these guys try it. We're probably not going to see teams running rampant on the basepaths like the 1980s have returned but if the new rules encourage teams and players to feel as bold as Ozzie Albies and the Braves do when it comes to baserunning, then there's no doubt that things are going to get even more exciting whenever you start seeing Ozzie, Ronald Acuña Jr. and Michael Harris II taking their respective leads away from the larger first base bag.