Last year, Freddie Freeman finished a hot-streak at the end of the year away from putting his name at the forefront of the MVP conversation. Rightfully so, Christian Yelich ended up walking away with the award. When formulating a conversation around potential 2019 winners, it is hard not to mention Freeman, as the Braves transition from an exciting and hopeful group to perrenial contenders. But the reality of the situation is Freeman may not even be the best MVP candidate on his own team.
Ronald Acuña‘s ridiculous second half catapulted the Braves to the top of the NL East and allowed them to run away with the division. Unfortunately, an injury prevented him from playing in a large chunk of the season, and thus, really competing for the MVP award, but the whole league took notice of his potential. There is no way a pre-season MVP conversation can take place without mentioning last year’s NL Rookie of the year.
And finally, the Braves made quite a splash in free agency – although you would not know it listening to Braves’ fans on Twitter – by signing Josh Donaldson to a one-year deal. Now, Donaldson is coming off back-to-back injury-plagued years but will be reunited with GM Alex Anthopolous in Atlanta. The Braves must have been pretty encouraged by Josh Donaldson’s health, or they would not have spent $20+ million to acquire him. A healthy Josh Donaldson is an MVP candidate in the National League. You can file that assurance right next to death and taxes.
So which one of these Braves is most likely to take home the award in 2019?
3. Josh Donaldson
If the Braves were getting Josh Donaldson in 2016, he would come in at number one on this list. From 2013-16, the former Blue Jay finished in the top eight in MVP voting all four seasons, including three top-four finishes and one MVP award. He may have been well on his way to another MVP award had injuries not shortened his 2017 season. In 113 games that year, Donaldson had a .270 average with 33 bombs and 78 RBIs.
Injuries caused even more problems in 2018. Multiple stints on the DL led to him playing only 36 games in Toronto before being traded to the Indians. He returned to play in 16 games for the Tribe in which he hit .280 with three home runs.
One of the reasons Donaldson came to the Braves is because of the trust he has in Atlanta’s training staff that was with him in Toronto. Alex Anthopolous said upon Donaldson’s arrival, “… We got the knee examined, and the reports were very strong. He looks great.” There’s a reason the Braves gave him $23 million for one year. They expect him to boost this offense from good to elite.
With that said, this is a tight race between three fantastic players, and it’s hard not to knock Donaldson a bit because of his injury history and the fact that he will be 33 years old. Even a fantastic bounce-back campaign may not be enough to earn Donaldson’s second MVP award.
2. Freddie Freeman
I have a feeling Freeman’s offensive numbers are only going to continue to rise as he enters the prime of his career, and Atlanta surrounds him with more bats. This year we already know he will have Ronald Acuña and Josh Donaldson around him. Where in the order they might be has not been determined. I’d like to think if the Braves fail to add another power bat in their lineup, that one of those two will be protecting Freeman in the order.
Protection has been something Freeman has not had the luxury of in quite some time. He’s hit over .300 for three consecutive seasons, and that’s with pitchers willing to give him nothing more than a pitcher’s pitch. Just imagine what he might hit with Josh Donaldson behind him. I don’t think .320-.330 is out of the question.
Freeman will be the heart and soul of the Braves once again in 2019. He’s a shoo-in for a .300 average with 20 home runs every year. But he does not possess the Wow-factor that belongs to our number one candidate.
1. Ronald Acuña Jr.
I have a feeling Acuña will be at the center of this conversation for the next ten years or so. As a rookie, Acuña hit .293 with 26 homers and 64 RBIs in 111 games. Stretch that out over a full 162 games, and Acuña could have become the first rookie to win an MVP award since Ichiro did it back in 2001 – and he wasn’t even a rookie.
The truth is those numbers may still not give Acuña’s potential justice. He got off to a pretty slow start once he was called up and then suffered a gruesome knee injury that – luckily – only kept him out for a month. That combination caused him to hit .249 with seven home runs and 19 RBIs in the first half of the season.
Then, the legend of Ronald Acuña was born. In the final 68 games of the season, Acuña hit .322 with an astounding .625 slugging percentage and 1.028 OPS, 19 home runs and 45 RBIs. I’m not sure if those numbers are sustainable, and sophomore slumps are common, but everything about this newly turned 21-year old makes you think he has ‘it’.