One thing that you can say about Braves right fielder Ronald Acuña Jr.: He is healthy and happy this spring. That wasn’t the case last August. After hitting three homers against the Phillies on Aug. 9, Acuña sustained left wrist inflammation and was placed on the injured list six days later.
Acuña, 23, returned to action on Aug. 26, hitting .245 with 10 homers and a 1.055 OPS in his final 28 regular-season games. But when the postseason came around, Acuña had some lingering discomfort in his wrist and hit .217 with just one home run in October.
“It was definitely a challenge,” Acuña said via team interpreter Franco García. “You needed that strength to grip the bat. Along with the discomfort came the challenge that came along with it. … I had to wear different gear that I wasn’t accustomed to. None of those things are excuses. I have to put up some numbers. I’m going to go out there and keep trying to improve.”
It’s Spring Training and the results are not showing on the field -- yet. Entering Sunday’s Grapefruit League action, Acuña was 1-for-8, but manager Brian Snitker said that Acuna’s wrist is 100 percent.
“The wrist is no problem. He has looked good. He is in great shape. He kind of trimmed himself up. … He has been fine. He is right where he needs to be,” Snitker said.
Acuña said if the wrist ailment flares up again, he is going to fight his way to stay in the lineup.
“Regardless if I’m feeling hurt or feeling anything, my goal is to be in the lineup every single day,” Acuña said.
When Acuña is healthy, he is one of the best players in baseball, showcasing all five tools. As Snitker put it, Acuña is not a finished product and continues to make adjustments.
“He is growing and getting better as a hitter,” Snitker said. “You look at his numbers and his body of work, he continues to get better. I think if we can keep him in right field, he is a weapon out there.
“He has improved defensively on his routes -- even in center field. I think he is going to continue to learn the game. He is going to continue to make adjustments as [opponents] continue to adjust to him.”
Acuña’s ultimate goal is to reach the World Series. Last year, the Braves were a game away from reaching that stage, but they lost to the Dodgers in seven games in the National League Championship Series.
“We’re coming in with the same mentality we had last year, but we are coming in with even more hunger to reach the World Series,” Acuña said. “We were obviously one game away from doing it. Last year is in the past. We don’t need to give that any more attention. I think we are coming in with the same goal: Get in the World Series.”
Acuña is pleased that he will continue to suit up alongside outfielder Marcell Ozuna, who had a chance to leave via free agency, but ultimately re-signed with the Braves for four more years. Ozuna wasn’t just a force at the plate last year, he was a great teammate off the field.
“He is a tremendous hitter. He is a superstar,” Acuña said about Ozuna. "We know he is going to get the job done. We all kind of rely him for that, so it’s great to have him back.”