ATLANTA -- Five years later, Ronald Acuña Jr. continues to live up to those lofty expectations that surrounded his Major League arrival.
“He’s probably exceeded expectations,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said. “It’s hard to put expectations on guys until they get here. But it’s been pretty special seeing what he has been able to do.”
Acuña celebrated the fifth anniversary of his MLB debut by propelling the Braves to a 7-4 win over the Marlins on Tuesday night at Truist Park. The 25-year-old outfielder’s ability to impact a game with his power, speed, glove and arm have created reason to believe he will indeed prove to be one of the game’s elite players for many years to come.
“The talent is just ridiculous,” Braves veteran pitcher Charlie Morton said. “The power, the contact and his approach at the plate … he is just really well put together.”
When Acuña made his MLB debut for the Braves in Cincinnati on April 25, 2018, he stood as baseball’s top prospect. His earliest days as a big leaguer created more chatter about him replacing Mike Trout as the game’s next superstar. His ascent was halted by the torn right ACL he suffered two days before the 2021 All-Star break.
But as Acuña entered Tuesday tied for the MLB lead with a 1.6 fWAR (FanGraphs’ Wins Above Replacement Model), it was clear he had regained his place with Trout, Shohei Ohtani, Aaron Judge and the game’s elite.
“Obviously, one of the perks about being healthy is you can showcase your abilities day in and day out,” Acuña said through an interpreter.
There was plenty to celebrate as the Braves claimed a second straight win over the Marlins. Morton produced his best start of the season, striking out nine over seven innings. Eddie Rosario homered for a second straight night and Ozzie Albies enjoyed his first two-homer game.
As for Acuña, he padded his MVP resume by adding to his MLB-leading totals in multihit games (13) and stolen bases (13). Now that his surgically repaired knee is healthy, he will be aiming for the 40-40 season he fell three steals shy of in 2019. Or maybe at least a 50-steal season.
“The most important thing is to stay healthy,” Acuña said. “We’ll see at the end of the season, how many I can steal.”
Acuña has immediately shown how dangerous he can be in the leadoff role. He got the Braves rolling on Monday with a leadoff double and then stole third base before Austin Riley gave Morton an early lead with a RBI single. This has been a recipe for success for Atlanta, which is now 15-2 when scoring first.
One of the keys to getting an early lead has been the ridiculous success Acuña has had in the opening frame. He leads MLB in each of these first-inning categories: batting average (.636), on-base percentage (.667), doubles (5) and stolen bases (7).
Just nine other players have even totaled seven stolen bases this year. The Rays’ Wander Franco is the only other player with three stolen bases in the first inning.
Though Acuña has homered just three times this year, he hit 41 homers in 2019 and has shown he has the capability to be one of the game’s top power threats.
Ryan Howard (325), Pete Alonso (347), Gary Sánchez (355), Aaron Judge (371), Yordan Alvarez (372), Ralph Kiner (376) and Joey Gallo (377) are the only players to reach 100 homers in fewer games than Acuña (378).
But when Acuña reached that milestone in 2021, he became the fastest player to ever reach 100 homers and 75 stolen bases by number of games.
Acuña has 123 homers and 120 stolen bases through the first 538 games of his career. He is the fastest player to ever reach both marks, and the only player to reach said marks in such a short span. (Eric Davis is the only other player to accomplish it in fewer than 600 games, and he did it in 559.)
Safe to say, Acuña has lived up to those expectations of being special.
“You see the swing and the ball come off the bat, even in [batting practice], it’s just a joke,” Morton said. “He’s a really unique player.”