Acuña isn't planning to slow down after right knee soreness

March 8th, 2024

This story was excerpted from Mark Bowman’s Braves Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.

NORTH PORT, Fla. -- Now that is back in camp and completing normal baseball activities, there’s reason to wonder if last week’s right knee soreness should lead the reigning National League MVP to be a little less aggressive with his stolen-base attempts this year.

“No,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said. “He’s still young and he’s still at an age where he can still [steal a lot of bases]. He’s going to reach a time where he’s going to slow down on his own. For now, you've just got to let a kid like that loose and let him play his game.”

That’s certainly good news for all the baseball fans looking forward to watching Acuña establish himself as one of the greatest power-speed talents the game has seen. We may never see another player join the 40-70 club that he established when he hit 41 homers and stole 73 bases last year.

Before Acuña, no player had tallied more than 46 stolen bases during a 40-homer season. And no other player had hit more than 28 homers during a 70-steal season.

There are some of you reading this and thinking, "I wouldn’t mind seeing Acuña be less aggressive on the bases to lessen some wear and tear." There’s nothing wrong with that thinking. But at the same time, there’s nothing wrong with the outfielder taking advantage of the youthful energy he still has at 26 years old.

There will come a day when Acuña isn’t looking to steal 40-plus bases and there will come a day when stolen bases aren’t a part of his MVP resume. But that day has not yet arrived.

Acuña certainly doesn’t think last week’s issue should create concern. His right knee was sore after he had some fun while extending a rundown in a game against the Twins. An MRI exam showed irritation around the meniscus. This led the Braves to send him to California to be evaluated by Dr. Neal ElAttrache, who had surgically repaired this same knee after an ACL tear in 2021.

Why take this much precaution? With Opening Day still three weeks away, it made sense to erase any concerns about this being a lingering issue throughout the remainder of this year and beyond.

When Acuña returned to Braves camp early on Tuesday morning, he said he was ready to immediately resume playing in games. He took batting practice and completed other normal baseball activities with his teammates on Thursday, but Snitker wasn’t sure exactly when his superstar would be back at the top of the lineup, and there isn't any reason to rush.

What should be expected from Acuña this year?

Thoughts of another 70-steal season seem unrealistic. If you didn’t see it in my previous newsletter, just 13 players have tallied 70-plus stolen bases multiple times since 2000. The two most recent were Marquis Grissom (1990-91) and Kenny Lofton (1993-96).

There have been just five 40-40 seasons, and the only near repeat occurred in 1997, when Barry Bonds hit 40 homers and tallied 37 steals. No other player tallied more than 21 stolen bases the year after going 40-40.

Acuña’s stolen-base total might decrease this year, but I’m predicting that he will become the first player to record consecutive 40-40 seasons.