First, a quick primer. Here is how Ronald Acuña Jr. ranked among all rookies across MLB this past season in a few offensive categories.
HR – 3rd (26)
SB – T-2nd (16)
OPS – 4th (.917)
wRC+ – 4th (143)
Slugging – 3rd (.552)
fWAR – T-1st (3.7)
And here is how Ronald Acuña Jr. ranked in the second half against all players (not just rookies) across baseball.
HR – 4th (19)
SB – 8th (14)
OPS – 3rd (1.028)
wRC+ – 4th (171)
Slugging – 2nd (.625)
fWAR – T-4th (3.4)
He did all of that as a 20-year-old with 111 games of big league experience under his belt.
Look, we have spoken a lot about Ronald Acuña Jr. on this website over the last couple of years. From our first look at him when he debuted for Rome in low-A where we thought he was in the top tier of Braves prospects with a chance to do something special to last year when everyone thought that he had a chance to do something special to this past season when he DID something special, Ronald Acuña Jr. is the rare player with the talent to do basically anything he wants to do on a baseball and then does just that. His combination of speed, power, and athleticism makes him dangerous in virtually any situation.
All one really needs to know about Acuña’s 2018 is that the Nationals’ Juan Soto is one of the best teenage hitters the sport of baseball has seen as he posted a 145 wRC+ while showing real power and elite on-base skills and Acuña is still considered the favorite for the National League Rookie of the Year award (both would be fantastic winners if we are being honest).
Acuña’s 2018 season did not come without some trials and tribulations. He struggled to start the season when he was still in the minors and was not dominant when he first debuted. After a knee and back injury on a play at first base kept him on the Disabled List for a while, he really started going wild once he returned. There was also the Jose Ureña HBP that not only cleared the benches and caused all sorts of trouble, but also threatened to derail Ronnie when he was at his absolute hottest. Fortunately for the Braves and for Acuña, that did not come to pass.
Without Ronald Acuña Jr., the Braves potentially do not win the division in 2018. He was one of the best hitters (right there with Christian Yelich and Justin Turner) in the entire league in the second half. He is going to be a Brave for the foreseeable future and if he can put up numbers close to what he did this year (not a given at all, but he also has the talent to exceed them so there is some variance here either way), he could end up as one of the best players in baseball in 2019.
Bottom line, what did he do in 2018? Slashed .211/.297/.267 in 23 games at Triple-A. In 111 games in the major leagues, Acuña slashed .293/.366/.552 (143 wRC+) with 26 homers and 16 stolen bases. He will finish in the top two in Rookie of the Year balloting and is the current betting favorite for the award. If there’s one area where he stands to improve, it’s defensively, as he posted a negative UZR (albeit a positive DRS) and a not-super-exciting 4 OAA (2% catch probability added). All-in-all, his 3.7 fWAR was the highest among Braves rookies since Jason Heyward’s 2010.
Will Acuña be on the roster in 2019? Ha, yeah I think he will squeak in. In all seriousness, if the Braves trade Acuña in the offseason (which has like a 0.00001% probability), there might be rioting outside SunTrust Park.
What will he do in 2019? At this point, we are just waiting for the next time that Acuña does something else amazing and it is likely that we will get plenty of those moments in 2019. There are some potential pitfalls to be sure. Acuña works a lot of deep counts, but there were certainly times where he got fooled and ended up striking out more than he should. Moreover, the entire league has a lot of tape on him now and teams are going to be devoting a lot of time and energy into figuring out how to beat him. Acuña will have to adjust over the course of the season and it won’t always be him feasting on opposing pitchers. However, it seems like a good bet that he will put together another strong season given the level of talent and what we saw this season out of him, including his advanced ability to make adjustments in-season.
Highlight of the 2018 season? There are a bunch to choose from including his lead-off home run streak, various big time hits in clutch situations, and some spectacular catches in left field. However, one moment stands out that yours truly got to witness first hand. Acuña’s grand slam in game three against the Dodgers resulted in the loudest Braves crowd I have ever heard.
Ronald Acuña Jr. with the grand slam
He’s the youngest player in postseason history with a grand slam, at 20 years, 293 days old. pic.twitter.com/kLDD9nDAL3
— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) October 8, 2018
Another great moment: his two-run, game-winning homer at Yankee Stadium on July 2.
Lowlight of the 2018 season? Fortunately, there not too many options here. Acuna hurting himself when he was trying to get a safe call at first was up there, but nothing really compared to when Jose Ureña threw at him after Ronnie had torched the Marlins for most of the series.
The pitch that hit Ronald Acuña was 97.5 MPH.
Out of the 2,125 pitches that José Ureña has thrown this season, that’s in the 99th percentile of the fastest pitches he’s thrown.
That was also the fastest pitch José Ureña has ever thrown to open a game.
— 680 The Fan (@680TheFan) August 16, 2018
That was really a lowlight for baseball — if we’re talking things he did on the field, he really didn’t have too many. He had a nasty 0-for-5 with three strikeouts in a September 3 game against the Red Sox. Separately, in the division-clinching series with the Phillies, he failed to get the tying run in from third base with none out against Pat Neshek, but was picked up by his teammates as the Braves grabbed the victory anyway.