It almost sounds ridiculous, but Acuña is just scratching the surface of his potential. I don’t think we’ve seen anywhere near the best of him through three years — insanity, when you consider he smacked 41 homers with 37 steals in the only full 162-game season he participated in. Nevertheless, Acuña was even better during the shortened 60-game schedule, recording a career-high .987 OPS despite dealing with an ailing wrist issue that forced him to miss 14 games.
That injury is now 100% healed, according to Acuña himself; it won’t be something that carries into 2021.
#Braves’ Acuña said today wrist is fully recovered now. This through interpreter: pic.twitter.com/01m3SFabyQ
— David O'Brien (@DOBrienATL) March 7, 2021
But what will carry over is Acuña’s much-improved approach at the plate, which led to a 41-point increase in on-base percentage despite a .250 batting average — 30 points lower than his 2019 mark. He had exactly half as many walks in 2020 than he did in 2019 — 38 compared to 76 — in 110 fewer games.
According to Baseball Savant, Acuña was in the 99th percentile when it comes walk-rate. He was also in the 99th percentile of hard-hit %, 98th percentile in xwOBA, 96th percentile xSLG, 95th percentile in Barrel %, and 91st percentile in exit velocity. However, those attributes were well recognizable entering the 2020 season; it’s been his increased walk-rate from his rookie season (58%), to 2019 (72%), to 2020 (99%) that suggests his numbers may only be crazier this upcoming season. An OPS north of 1.000 very well could be in the cards, and those extra trips to first base will only create more opportunities for stolen bases, making a potential 40/40 season more probable than ever before.
That is the elite company Acuña is attempting to join in 2021. Only four players have had 40 homers and 40 steals in the same season — Barry Bonds, Jose Canseco, Alex Rodriguez, and Alfonso Soriano. The latter was the latest to join the exclusive club, smashing 46 homers and swiping 41 bags back in 2006.
Health permitting, it wouldn’t be shocking to see Acuña challenge those marks on an annual basis. He has effortless power to all fields; 40 home runs a year should be a breeze. Stealing 40 bases is the hard part, but considering the rate he swiped bags at in the second half of 2019 and his improved ability to get on base, 50 steals in a single season seems attainable.
That is another elite milestone Acuña could potentially chase at some point in his career, becoming the first player ever to join the 50/50 club. It would take the perfect storm, but with his talent, it really doesn’t feel unfathomable, and it helps that his coach feels like he came to Spring Training in the best shape of his young career. This from David O’Brien of The Athletic:
“(Acuña) kind of struggled a little bit in the whole spring training last year,” Snitker said. “You just look at him, how he came to the ballpark and how he’s moving, how he came to camp. It was good to see him like that. He was on time and really good.”
In an offseason where Fernando Tatis inked a $340 million mega-deal, following a season in which his teammate won the NL MVP award, and the hype around Juan Soto is at an all-time high, it seems like Acuña is almost flying under the radar a bit — as much as a player of his magnitude possibly can. However, I like the odds of him holding up the MVP trophy in November, reaching multiple milestones in the process.
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