Globe iconLogin iconRecap iconSearch iconTickets icon
news

MLB News

Here's why the Acuna-Soto ROTY chase is historic

Dynamic young outfielders on pace to join elite company in MLB history
MLB.com @matthewhleach

We've seen great rookies. Plenty of them in recent years, in fact. We've seen great young players. We've seen great Rookie of the Year Award races.

But if the Braves' Ronald Acuna Jr. and the Nationals' Juan Soto keep doing what they're doing, well, we've never seen anything quite like it. It's not just a Rookie of the Year Award race for the ages, though it is that. It's an arrival of young talent for the ages.

We've seen great rookies. Plenty of them in recent years, in fact. We've seen great young players. We've seen great Rookie of the Year Award races.

But if the Braves' Ronald Acuna Jr. and the Nationals' Juan Soto keep doing what they're doing, well, we've never seen anything quite like it. It's not just a Rookie of the Year Award race for the ages, though it is that. It's an arrival of young talent for the ages.

• ROTY and long-term ceiling: Acuna vs. Soto

The two young sluggers need only to maintain their season-long paces -- or even fall off just slightly -- to post a pair of seasons the likes of which baseball has never seen in the same year. There have never been two hitters so good, so young, over a full season in the same season.

Soto, 19, carries a 148 OPS+ (a measure of offensive production, adjusted for ballpark and era, where 100 is average). Acuna, 20, is at 145. They're both right around 300 plate appearances, on pace for more than 400 on the season if they just stay healthy.

Video: Breaking down the Rookie of the Year candidates

And that would be unprecedented. In the history of baseball, there have never been two players in the same year to manage an OPS+ of at least 140 while mustering 400 plate appearances at the age of 20 or younger.

Bryce Harper and Manny Machado didn't do it. Dick Allen and Tony Oliva didn't. Neither did Eddie Murray and Andre Dawson, Dusty Baker and Carlton Fisk, or Mike Piazza and Tim Salmon.

But that may still be burying the lead a bit. Because there's a good reason it's never been done twice in the same year.

Only 11 times in the history of the game has a player 20 or younger had an OPS+ of at least 140 in 400 or more plate appearances, and 10 of the guys to do it were all-time greats. In the past 100 years, it's been just eight players, and every one of them is an inner-circle Hall of Famer, or played at that level.

Mike Trout and Alex Rodriguez are the only players to do it in the past 60 years. Before that, Frank Robinson, Al Kaline and Mickey Mantle did it in the 1950s. In the '20s and '30s? Ted Williams, Mel Ott and Jimmie Foxx.

That's every player since the end of World War I who has posted a season like Soto and Acuna are on pace to do.

So, yes, this does have the makings of a great National League Rookie of the Year Award race, one that could stand alongside Carlos Correa-Francisco Lindor, Ryan Braun-Troy Tulowitzki, Kerry Wood-Todd Helton, Jose Canseco-Wally Joyner and Johnny Bench-Jerry Koosman. But even if that esteemed award had never been created, what these two players are doing is historic.

Video: WSH@STL: Soto cracks a go-ahead 2-run homer in 7th

Soto may be the most refined hitter to arrive in the Majors since Miguel Cabrera. He's displayed a remarkable mastery of the strike zone and an ability to hit to all fields, to go along with his prodigious power.

"He's special," said teammate Daniel Murphy, a pretty refined hitter himself. "It's really special. ... His swing is so fundamentally sound that he can do damage from foul pole to foul pole, which is unique for anybody, much less a 19-year-old. It seems like he rarely goes out the zone. [He] takes his walks and really doesn't strike out a lot. It's really special to watch."

Acuna is a less complete hitter -- most players are -- but a more complete player. His power, speed and defense add up to the kind of cornerstone player teams wait decades for.

Video: Ronald Acuna Jr. echoing a young Roberto Clemente

"He's the best leadoff hitter I've ever seen," said teammate Ender Inciarte. "He's the best player I've ever seen. He's just unbelievable. ... He's a big part of where we are right now."

The two have one more head-to-head series this year, in Atlanta on Sept. 14-16. It's being billed as "Future Stars Weekend" at SunTrust Park, a celebration of the Braves' Minor League talent. But it's unlikely any of those future stars will outshine the two young outfielders who are already stars.

Matthew Leach is the National League executive editor for MLB.com.

Ronald Acuna Jr., Juan Soto