Ronald Acuña Jr. has already established himself as a superstar in only his second season in the Major Leagues. He is a five-tool player and will be a perennial MVP candidate for years to come. At twenty-two years old, he already has a Rookie of the Year award, a Silver Slugger, and an All-Star appearance under his belt. This past season, he showed noticeable improvements in his defense while continuing to be an elite power threat at the plate. Acuña ended the season with a slash line of .280/.365/.518 while adding forty-one home runs and thirty-seven stolen bases. After flirting with a forty-forty season in 2019, what is the next step for Acuña?
Power and speed are Acuña’s biggest strengths. Acuña has elite power and everyone knows it. After hitting twenty-six home runs in only 111 games in 2018, he went on to his forty-one in 2019. These are not wall-scrapping home runs either. Acuña hits towering shots that are an average distance of 418 feet. He has a career .532 slugging percentage and 25.4% of his hits have gone for extra bases. On top of his power, he led the National League in stolen bases with thirty-seven and ranks 28th in sprint speed. That plus-plus speed allows him to put constant pressure on the defense. This not only helps Acuña on the base paths but also in the field as well. He has average jumps in the outfield, in the 56th percentile, but this top tier speed lets him makeup ground and get to balls in the gap that other fielders may not be able to reach.
Acuña’s rare combination of power and speed make him one of the most exciting and promising players in the league. He impacts the game in so many different ways and is a constant threat. As a rising superstar, what will allow him to make the final jump to a top-five talent?
Acuña’s Areas of Improvement
When looking at a player of Acuña’s caliber, finding weaknesses is like finding a needle in a haystack. He is unbelievable in so many facets of the game and shows that every day. His improvements will be focused on fine-tuning small areas of his game. With that being said, the next step for Acuña is to improve his approach at the plate and to improve his overall defense.
Approach at the Plate
Acuña finished second in the Major Leagues in strikeouts, only one strikeout behind Eugenio Suárez. Being in the lead-off spot for the Braves, he needs to find a way to strike out less. In today’s game of baseball, the strikeout is more accepted but that is not an excuse to do it 188 times. To get more specific on his approach, Acuña needs to improve his whiff rate on breaking balls. He does the most damage on this pitch, as he is slugging .563, but he is whiffing 33.3% of the time. On top of that, his production on fastballs took a downturn from 2018 to 2019. His batting average dropped thirty-six points and his slugging dropped 110 points. If Acuña can get back to crushing fastballs and making more contact on breaking pitches, his offensive production would skyrocket to the top of the league.
Acuña has a cannon for an arm and plus-plus speed, but why does he still barely fall above replacement level on defense? Acuña did improve his defense with a 9.3 point improvement on his DEF rating but still only had a 1.5 overall rating in 2019. This is all because of his reaction times and jumps on balls. Acuña ranks in the 56th percentile for outfield jumps and seems to almost get frozen on balls instead of being able to make quick reads. His reaction graded at a -.7 in 2019 and he relied heavily on his speed to make up ground. If Acuña can improve on his jumps and get that to above average, he will be a gold glove candidate.
Acuña is expected to take over right field with Ender Inciarte coming back off of his injuries and newly acquired Marcell Ozuna slotted in to play left field. His strong arm and good speed will play well in right field. His mediocre jumps will not be as costly with less ground to cover. If Acuña can improve on those jumps, nothing will fall in the right-center gap with help from multiple time Gold Glove winner, Ender Inciarte. Snitker wants to keep him at lead-off position. This will lead to him getting a lot of at-bats in front of Ozzie Albies and Freddie Freeman. Expect Acuña to get a lot of pitches to hit and for him to jump on them. Last year, teams developed a scouting report against him. This is the year he develops his own back against them.
Get excited Braves fans, Acuña can take his game to an even higher level than it is now. Acuña already made strides in 2019 in these categories. When Acuña makes the next step in 2020, then we will see the National League MVP award coming back to Atlanta for the first time since 1999.
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