Looking slender, Acuña shows off speed

March 1st, 2021

didn't wait long to create further reason to believe he has the potential to be one of the most energetic and exciting players baseball has ever seen.

As the Braves moved toward a 5-3 win over the Red Sox at JetBlue Park on Monday in Fort Myers, Fla., they were once again sparked by Acuña, who flashed his speed while doubling and scoring during a two-run first inning.

"He kind of struggled all of Spring Training last year," Braves manager Brian Snitker said. "But you just look at him and how he's moving, it's really, really good."

Looking a little more slender than last year, Acuña lined his first-inning double to the left-field wall and then slid headfirst into second base. He was again forced to display his elite speed a few minutes later, when Jake Lamb lined a single to left.

Proving his right arm is feeling just fine, third-base coach Ron Washington aggressively waved Acuña home, despite the fact the Braves superstar had not quite reached third base when left fielder J.D. Martinez fielded the hard-hit ball. Martinez's throw was slightly offline and his slide past catcher Jett Bandy gave Atlanta a quick 1-0 lead.

"He lost a considerable amount [of weight]," Snitker said. "I think he feels really good. I think it will play well for a whole season that he's not carrying that much weight around."

With center fielder Cristian Pache and second baseman Ozzie Albies also in Fort Myers on Monday, the Braves' lineup featured three of the game's top young players under 25 years old. Pache showed his opposite-field power with a flyout to the right-center-field wall in the first. Albies scored his second run of the game on William Contreras' two-run single in the third.

But while Pache and Albies will play key roles in the Braves' bid for a fourth straight National League East crown, most of the widespread attention will remain focused on Acuña, whose speed and power have led many to believe he is the game's next Mike Trout.

Among all Major Leaguers who had at least 50 competitive runs last year, Acuña generated the sixth-fastest sprint speed (29.2 feet per second).

Among all players who have hit at least 50 home runs since the start of 2018, Acuña ranks third with an average home run distance of 413 feet. The only players with higher average distances are the Rockies' Trevor Story (417 feet) and the Braves' Marcell Ozuna (414 feet).

Acuña exited the 2019 season three stolen bases of producing just the fifth 40-homer/40-steal season in MLB history. His bid to join that exclusive club last year was erased when the season was shortened to 60 games by the coronavirus.

But a 40/40 season remains an attainable goal for the 23-year-old Acuña, who hit .250 with 14 homers, eight stolen bases and a .987 OPS in 46 regular-season games last year. A sore left wrist forced him to spend two weeks on the injured list in August. More importantly, the ailment continued to bother him through the postseason.

Acuña's 11.43 at-bats per home run led all qualified NL players last year, but there were stretches when it was obvious his wrist would benefit from the extended rest it would get during the offseason.

"It was probably bothering him even more than he let on," Snitker said. "He's a tough kid and wants to play. We kind of backed him off in the offseason. He'll probably not do as much [batting] cage work this year just to make sure."