ST. PETERSBURG -- Less than two full weeks into his Major League career, Ronald Acuna Jr. has shown that along with having tremendous power and speed, he possesses an advanced knack for being able to quickly identify and react to pitches.
Rays left-hander Blake Snell learned this the hard way when Acuna turned on a 3-2 slider and drilled it over the left-center-field wall to account for the only run in the Braves' 1-0 win on Tuesday night at Tropicana Field. The young phenom's third-inning solo shot was the latest of the three homers tallied within his first 50 career at-bats. At 20 years, 141 days old, Acuna is the youngest player to homer in a 1-0 game since 1935 (Phil Cavarretta).
"He identifies that ball really early," manager Brian Snitker said. "That ball was a strike and he hammered it."
Snell has displayed his tremendous potential as he has produced a 1.82 ERA over his past six starts. The Tampa Bay southpaw possesses a four-seam fastball that touched 97 mph on Tuesday, and the ability to consistently spot both his curveball and a slider that rests in the upper 80s.
When Snell got Acuna to chase a nasty 2-1 slider during that third-inning plate appearance, Atlanta hitting coach Kevin Seitzer knew the lefty would show it again. Instead of getting too anxious while looking for a fastball, Acuna stayed back and had little trouble barreling the solo shot that traveled a projected 434 feet and had a 108.5-mph exit velocity, per Statcast™.
"Everything [Acuna] has been able to do has been aggressive so far," Seitzer said. "[Snell] tried to go to the same spot he took him to 2-1. He threw a dirty pitch there. I knew he was going back to it, but he didn't get it there. He didn't make many mistakes tonight, but Ronny got him."
Acuna has quickly adapted to life at the Major League level and provided strong indication he is capable of playing the daily chess match against opposing pitchers. He has hit .320 and produced a .358 on-base percentage while consistently hitting the ball hard. Sixteen of the 40 balls Acuna has put in play have had an exit velocity of at least 100 mph.
"I feel like I've been able to adapt to the pitches in the big leagues," Acuna said through an interpreter. "That's what you have to do. That's why they call it the big leagues."