Braves outfielder Ronald Acuna Jr. dazzled us from the moment he stepped onto a Major League diamond last April. Are 20-year-olds supposed to be this good? This polished?Acuna became the face of the Braves in a magical turnaround season and was honored with the Jackie Robinson National League Rookie of
Braves outfielder Ronald Acuna Jr. dazzled us from the moment he stepped onto a Major League diamond last April. Are 20-year-olds supposed to be this good? This polished?
Acuna became the face of the Braves in a magical turnaround season and was honored with the Jackie Robinson National League Rookie of the Year Award on Monday. He received 27 of 30 first-place votes, with Nationals outfielder Juan Soto finishing second and Dodgers righty Walker Buehler third.
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:: NL Rookie of the Year voting totals ::
The three of them are part of a tidal wave of youth sweeping through Major League Baseball, changing it -- and making it better -- almost by the day.
Meanwhile, Angels two-way phenom Shohei Ohtani won the American League Rookie of the Year Award after a season in which he did something -- pitching and hitting on a regular basis -- no player had done in 99 years.
Ohtani also won easily, receiving 25 of 30 first-place votes, with a pair of Yankees -- third baseman Miguel Andujar and second baseman Gleyber Torres -- finishing second and third.
Because Ohtani tore a ligament in his right elbow and was limited to 10 pitching starts, he will not pitch again until 2020, so his 2018 season served to tease us about what the 24-year-old is capable of.
"Putting numbers aside, I don't want to talk numbers, I was disappointed I was not able to play full season," Ohtani said. "Elite players should be able to play a full season and help the team win. That's one of my goals."
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Despite the injury, he joined Babe Ruth (1919) as the only other player with at least 10 pitching appearances and 20 homers in a single season.
"I'm really honored to win this award in my first season in the States," he said. "It's my first year, and I think I have a lot of years ahead of me better than this one. I want to keep the focus on the future."
Ohtani is the fourth Japanese-born player to win Rookie of the Year honors, joining Seattle's Kazuhiro Sasaki (2000) and Ichiro Suzuki (2001) in the AL and Hideo Nomo of the Dodgers in the NL (1995).
:: AL Rookie of the Year voting totals ::
To have one's name in a conversation with Babe Ruth is one of the ultimate compliments a player can receive, and Ohtani took it in stride, saying, "I'm really honored to win this award against the high level of competition in Major League Baseball. I'm really proud of it."
On Opening Day, Ohtani was attempting to do something no player had done since Ruth's 1919 season -- be a starting pitcher and a full-time hitter.
Ohtani needed only a few weeks to show that he had a skill set to do both. Until a torn ligament was discovered in his right elbow, he'd had one of the most remarkable seasons in history. He's the first player to hit at least 20 home runs and record 50 strikeouts as a pitcher in the same season.
He'd gone 4-1 with a 3.10 ERA and 11.6 strikeouts per nine innings through May 19 when he began to experience elbow issues. In that same stretch, Ohtani was hitting .321 with six home runs and a .986 OPS in 24 games (21 starts) as the Angels' designated hitter.
Ohtani pitched in just three more games after that, and he did not hit for most of June. But he returned for the final three months to DH and continued to be productive, finishing with 22 home runs, 21 doubles and a .925 OPS in 104 games.
"I never had any doubts coming over here," Ohtani said. "I feel like I was able to fight through [the injury], and to end up with an award like this is an honor."
Ohtani and Acuna were the only MLB rookies with at least 20 home runs and 10 stolen bases in 2018.
"I'm just flattered. I'm so honored to receive this award," Acuna said. "My career is just beginning. There are just so many things I need to do to become a better player. I like to take in all the advice from other people to improve every year, to become a better person and a better player."
Acuna's rookie season was magical from the start. He'd had an electrifying Spring Training and was MLB Pipeline's No. 2 prospect when he made his debut for the Braves on April 25.
He proceeded to fulfill every bit of promise by helping Atlanta improve by 18 games and make the playoffs for the first time since 2013. Acuna homered in his second big league game and went on to lead the Braves with 26 home runs and a .917 OPS in 111 games. He's one of five players in history to hit 26 home runs before his 21st birthday and the 10th to have at least 25 homers and 15 steals during his rookie season.
Acuna's 55 extra-base hits in his first 100 games were the sixth-most in history on a list that includes Joe DiMaggio, the all-time leader at 69.
Acuna's most impressive stretch came after the All-Star break, when Braves manager Brian Snitker moved him to the top of the batting order. Acuna hit 19 home runs in the final 68 games of the season had the NL's third-highest OPS, at 1.028.
His 3.4 WAR after the All-Star break was the second-highest in the NL, trailing only Brewers NL MVP candidate Christian Yelich's 5.4. In addition, Acuna's 171 Weighted Runs Created Plus after the break ranked third in the NL.
Richard Justice has been a reporter for MLB.com since 2011. Read his columns, listen to his podcast and follow him on Twitter at @RichardJustice.