Ronald Acuna Jr. made his major league debut with the Atlanta Braves on April 25, 2018, as a 20-year old. He went 1-for-5 and scored the game-tying run. It was only the start of what’s been a phenomenal run for Acuna thus far. He’s provided a punch Atlanta’s lineup sorely needed. It’s still early, but Acuna’s career has exceeded expectations thus far. He went from being the No. 2 prospect in all of baseball to the 2018 National League Rookie of the Year after last season. Does Acuna have what it takes to become one of baseball’s greatest players ever?
Acuna’s phenomenal 2018 numbers
Acuna’s first season in the league was a great one. Some of his accomplishments included:
- 26 home runs
- 64 RBIs
- A .293 batting average, .366 on-base percentage, and .552 slugging percentage
- 16 stolen bases
- A 12th place finish in the MVP voting
- 78 runs and 127 hits, including 26 doubles
- A wins above replacement (WAR) value of 4.1
Robert Acuna Jr. rubs shoulders with baseball’s best
Acuna’s on-base percentage plus slugging percentage (OPS+) as a rookie was 145. That figure was 10th all-time among hitters 20 years older or younger in a season since 1901, according to FiveThirtyEight, and it put Acuna ahead of Hall of Fame greats such as Frank Robinson, Ken Griffey Jr., Mel Ott, and Bryce Harper. His WAR per game for his age 20 season was .035, putting him ahead of Willie Mays, arguably one of the top five best baseball players of all time. The players above him on the list are equally notable, including Mike Trout, Mickey Mantle, Alex Rodriguez, and Ted Williams.
Acuna’s contributions were important to the Braves’ success. He helped lead them to a 90-72 record last season for a first-place finish in the NL East. He also gives them high hopes for this season as well. He led the team in home runs, finished second in on-base percentage, and was third in batting average and slugging percentage.
Acuna’s 2019 season so far
Through 42 games of the 2019 season, it looks as if Ronald Acuna Jr. picked up right where he left off:
- 42 hits
- 24 runs
- Eight home runs
- 24 RBIs
- A .273 batting average, .364 on-base percentage, and .468 slugging percentage
Acuna’s numbers in 2019 are slightly below the pace he set last year. FiveThirtyEight points out that Acuna’s walk rate has improved to 12.7% this year, meaning his plate discipline is better.
It’s impossible to argue that Acuna’s career isn’t off to a great start. And it’s very rare for 20-year-old players to play at such a high level.
Why Ronald Acuna, Jr. could become one of the greatest players ever
There are a number of reasons why Acuna’s career may end up becoming one of the greatest baseball players ever:
- His age. Despite his amazing productivity thus far, Acuna is still only 21 years old. If he stays healthy and continues on this track, he’ll end up putting up historic numbers.
- The Braves’ lineup. The Braves have several solid hitters in their lineup, ranging in age from their early to late 20s either approaching or in their primes. That list includes Freddie Freeman (age 28), Ozzie Albies (21), and Johan Camargo (24). This stellar grouping of hitters will ensure Acuna will have protection in the Braves’ lineup as he approaches his own prime years.
- His versatility. Along with his offensive production, Acuna’s defensive numbers have improved as well. While FiveThirtyEight reported his defensive output was average at best last year, he’s on track to be much better this year if he plays the same number of innings as he did in 2018.
Acuna has a lot of big league years ahead of him, so it’s difficult to predict exactly how his career will pan out. Players can suffer injuries and face different challenges. However, based on Acuna’s youth, the stability of the Braves’ lineup, and his ability to play well on offense and defense give him as good a chance as anyone to be one of baseball’s greats. The fact he already enjoyed better success at age 20 indicates he’s on the right path.