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Acuña's goal? Be first member of 50-50 club

@mlbbowman
February 12, 2020

NORTH PORT, Fla. -- Braves second baseman Ozzie Albies was not surprised when Ronald Acuña Jr. arrived at Spring Training and said he is aiming for what would be the first 50-50 season in Major League history. “He’s my good friend,” Albies said. “We always talk about how he’s going

NORTH PORT, Fla. -- Braves second baseman Ozzie Albies was not surprised when Ronald Acuña Jr. arrived at Spring Training and said he is aiming for what would be the first 50-50 season in Major League history.

“He’s my good friend,” Albies said. “We always talk about how he’s going to be better every day. I’m pretty sure he’s going to be even better than last year.”

Acuña fell three stolen bases shy of recording what would have been just the fifth 40-40 season in MLB history. Still, as he belted 41 homers and tallied 37 steals, he joined Mike Trout (2012) as the only players 21 or younger to record a 30-30 season.

MLB's 40-40 club

As Acuña spent most of this offseason in his native Venezuela, he looked forward to the chance to strengthen the elite status he has gained through his first two Major League campaigns. The 22-year-old outfielder to date has produced a .897 OPS. The only players to construct a higher number at 21 or younger are Ted Williams (1.041), Jimmie Foxx (1.015), Mel Ott (.986), Trout (.948), Frank Robinson (.920), Eddie Mathews (.907) and Alex Rodriguez (.900).

“I don’t want to stay complacent,” Acuña said through an interpreter. “I’ve always strived for more. That’s the way I’ve always been. I don’t want to conform to what has gotten me to where I am so far. I just strive to get better and better as my career goes on.”

Pacing himself
When Mike Foltynewicz looks back on the frustrations he encountered after he aggravated his right elbow during last year’s first Grapefruit League start, the right-hander recognizes the need to harness his excitement as he prepares for the upcoming season.

“My arm feels good,” Foltynewicz said. “I’m just going to listen to it. We’re not going to really rip sliders and curveballs. We’ll just slowly and gradually get into that. I’m just listening to my arm instead of going full bore like last year.”

Foltynewicz irritated a bone spur in his elbow after aggressively throwing some sliders while making his Grapefruit League debut against the Astros last year. Consequently, he missed the remainder of Spring Training and did not make his season debut until April 27. Less than two months later, the 2018 All-Star was optioned to Triple-A Gwinnett.

Though Foltynewicz eventually recovered and regained his dominance over the final six weeks of the regular season, he understands all that was lost because he was not able to experience a normal Spring Training. He arrived in Florida more than a week ago and has committed to pacing himself leading up to this year’s regular season.

“[Bullpen coach Marty Reed] said, ‘Hey man, we know what you can do,’” Foltynewicz said. “Sometimes, you need to hear people say that to you so that you can pump the brakes. At the same time, you know what you need to do to get ready for your 30-32 starts and keep that arm healthy the whole year.”

Tomlin returns
Josh Tomlin will reunite with his Braves teammates and immediately enter the battle to open the season in Atlanta’s bullpen. Tomlin signed a Minor League deal on Wednesday and will report to camp within the next couple of days.

Tomlin established himself as a popular clubhouse figure and valuable mentor while posting a 3.74 ERA in 51 appearances (one start) for the Braves last year. He opted to re-sign with Atlanta after not receiving the guaranteed deal a couple of other teams were pondering offering as recently as Tuesday.

“We obviously think the world of [Tomlin],” general manager Alex Anthopoulos said. “We were prepared to wait that out for him if that [guaranteed deal] was going to present itself.”

Tomlin will once again attempt to present the Braves a long-relief option. They currently have two openings in their eight-man bullpen. The projected locks are Mark Melancon, Will Smith, Shane Greene, Chris Martin, Darren O’Day and Luke Jackson.

Mark Bowman has covered the Braves for MLB.com since 2001.