Acuna's second-half surge nets NL ROY honors
ATLANTA -- If Ronald Acuna Jr. lives up to expectations by collecting a plethora of major awards over the next two decades, he likely will still fondly remember his first, the one he garnered after proving to be one of the most impressive 20-year-olds to grace the Major League scene.
Currently playing in the Japan All-Star Series, Acuna awoke early Tuesday morning to learn he had been named National League Rookie of the Year. The announcement, which was made Monday night in the United States, provided the Braves phenom another chance to celebrate and reflect on what was truly a memorable year.
:: NL Rookie of the Year voting totals ::
"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, the only player to appear on every ballot, garnered 27 of the 30 first-place votes cast by members of the Baseball Writers' Association of America while accumulating 144 points. Nationals outfielder Juan Soto gained two first-place votes and finished second with 89 points. Dodgers right-hander Walker Buehler received the other first-place vote and 28 total points. All ballots were cast before the start of the postseason.
Acuna is the first Braves player to win a major postseason award since Craig Kimbrel was named the NL's Rookie of the Year in 2011. The other players in franchise history to be named Rookie of the Year were Rafael Furcal (2000), David Justice (1990), Bob Horner (1978), Earl Williams (1971), Sam Jethroe (1950) and Alvin Dark (1948).
Soto stood as the favorite for this award until Acuna became a down-ballot MVP candidate by producing an incredible second half and helping the Braves win an unexpected NL East title. After the All-Star break, the outfielder ranked second among all NL players with a 3.4 fWAR (Fangraphs' WAR model) and third with 171 weighted runs created plus.
Acuna made his much-anticipated debut April 25 in Cincinnati and tallied his first career home run the next day. The five-tool prospect endured some inevitable growing pains and then missed a month after spraining his left anterior cruciate ligament May 27 at Fenway Park. He altered the mechanics of his swing just before the All-Star break and went on a tear when moved to the leadoff spot immediately after the break.
Validating his standing as MLB Pipeline's second-best prospect entering the season, Acuna exited the season having hit .293 with 26 homers, a .917 OPS (144 park and league adjusted OPS) and a 3.7 fWAR, which matched Soto for the best produced by a NL rookie.
Soto produced very similar numbers, hitting .292 with 22 homers and a .923 OPS (122 OPS+). The 19-year-old's strong candidacy began to be overshadowed by the late final impressions made by Acuna, who grabbed the attention of the baseball world when he homered in five straight games from Aug. 11-14, becoming the youngest player in baseball history to homer in as many as four straight games.
As the Braves won seven of Acuna's first eight games they went from 3 1/2 games back to 1 1/2 games up in the NL East. They also turned a half-game deficit to a two-game lead as they went 12-4 while their young left fielder tallied nine homers and produced a 1.357 OPS from July 31-Aug. 15.
Acuna became the fifth player to tally 26 homers in a season prior to his 21st birthday. He is also one of 10 players, the first since Michael Trout in 2012, to hit at least 25 homers and tally at least 15 stolen bases in a rookie season.