The Atlanta Braves made one of the best investments in franchise history by signing Ronald Acuna Jr. as an international free agent back in 2014. After quickly working his way through the minor league system, the Venezuelan native made his MLB debut in 2018. And to little surprise, Acuna has already established a reputation as one of the most exciting players in the game.
In fact, the talented outfielder has produced at such a high level that he just forced Barry Bonds to move over and make some room for him in record books. But does that necessarily make Acuna the best young star in baseball?
Barry Bonds established a reputation as a five-tool player early in his career
Many baseball fans remember Bonds as the hulking slugger who smashed homers with such ease that it seemed superhuman. But the California native had much more to his game than pure power. Looking back at all the players who have donned an MLB uniform, it’s difficult to find one with such an expansive skillset as the all-time home run king.
Bonds started his career in Pittsburgh, where he surprisingly didn’t show much pop at the plate. However, he made an impact with his legs, and he eventually developed into an annual Gold Glove winner.
By the time he signed with the San Francisco Giants, Bonds had fully arrived as an all-around star. He not only provided big-time power but he also continued to steal bases at a prolific rate. Plus, his patient approach helped him rack up more walks than any other player for four straight seasons (1994-97).
Of course, the seven-time National League MVP experienced an unprecedented leap in production later in his career that caused many to believe he used performance-enhancing drugs. While those allegations have undoubtedly impacted his legacy, the fact remains Bonds possessed the rare ability to impact the game at an elite level from the outfield, on the base paths, and in the batter’s box.
Ronald Acuna Jr. just forced Bonds to make room for him in MLB record books
It’s far too early to anoint Acuna as a Hall of Famer, but the 23-year-old certainly has the tools to cement his case one day. For now, though, he can settle for being in the same conversation as Bonds.
According to a graphic shared by ESPN Stats & Info Thursday night, the young outfielder has totaled 50 home runs and 42 stolen bases in his last 162 games. That puts Acuna in elite company, as Bonds is the only other player in league history to accomplish that feat. The Giants legend hit the 50/40 mark during a 162-game stretch between 1993-95.
Unlike Bonds, Acuna started smashing longballs from the moment he stepped foot on an MLB field. He won NL Rookie of the Year honors by hitting 26 homers and stealing 16 bases in 111 games. He increased those totals to 41 and 37, respectively, in 2019. Acuna hit 14 more during the pandemic-shortened 2020 season.
At this point, it’s safe to say the Braves have a generational talent on their hands. If all goes well, Atlanta will retire Acuna’s number years from now. But in a league full of talented young stars, where does he rank right now?
Where does Acuna rank in terms of baseball’s best young stars?
Acuna’s 50/40 accomplishment deserves tremendous praise. After all, it says a lot that only he and Bonds have been able to compile those numbers. However, there are several other players under the age of 25 who could break records themselves down the line.
You know times have changed when the sons of two former MLB players have become recognizable stars. Fernando Tatis Jr. followed in his father’s footsteps and has wasted no time making his presence known. The power-hitting shortstop has totaled 48 home runs and 34 stolen bases in 169 career games. With a 14-year, $340 million deal in place, Tatis should remain the face of the San Diego Padres for quite some time.
Vladimir Guerrero Jr. doesn’t feature the same slender frame as his dad, but the 250-pound corner infielder possesses similar skills at the plate. The 22-year-old has the ability to become a perennial All-Star, so the future looks bright in Toronto.
Ultimately, though, Acuna will likely get compared to Juan Soto for the rest of his career. The Washington Nationals leftfielder also made his MLB debut in 2018, and he has more than lived up to the hype. Soto doesn’t make as much of an impact as a runner, but his hitting ability makes him a dangerous weapon every time he steps into the batter’s box.
Needless to say, baseball has no shortage of young stars. Only time will tell if any of them ever measure up to Barry Bonds.
All statistics courtesy of Baseball Reference.