Ronald Acuña Jr. began the season as baseball’s top prospect. Unfortunately, the hype was postponed due to a late start and a gruesome knee injury that cost him a month. But ever since his return to the diamond he has been as good as advertised, giving the Braves a boost that could propel them to the playoffs.
Now, Acuña seems to be setting new marks every game. He became the youngest player to ever homer in four straight games yesterday. Not to mention he inked himself in the record books as just one of four players in the history of baseball to hit a leadoff home-run in both games of a double-header. In a less impressive feat, he came up with five hits in yesterday’s doubleheader. He is slashing a sizzling .344/.410/.767 with a preposterous 1.177 OPS in the second half. Matt Carpenter of the Cardinals might be the only player with a hotter bat, but there are not a more intriguing three minutes in sports than Acuña in the box right now.
The Nationals’ Juan Soto has been a fantastic story. The 19-year old made his debut May 20th after several Nationals went down with injuries. Despite not even being the top-rated prospect in the Nationals organization, he has yet to show his youth, providing a constant bright spot on a team that has been filled with turmoil. You could make the argument he has been the best position player on a Washington team absolutely loaded with star power. Although, those “stars” have largely underperformed for the majority of the season.
Nevertheless, the Nationals would not be anywhere near contention without Soto. His .301 batting average actually pales in comparison to his absurd .421 on-base percentage. And he is not slowing down either, as his OBP is nearly thirty points higher since the break. Like Acuña, he has also set several new marks this season, becoming the youngest player since Andruw Jones to hit multiple home runs in the same game and the youngest player to hit a home-run in six years. The problem: The Nationals need a miracle to overcome the hole they have dug themselves in the NL East. It is more likely they fade into the abyss of a 162-game season rather than reel off a huge winning streak that leads them to a division crown, especially with the number of injuries they are dealing with.
Meanwhile, Acuña Jr. has to the opportunity to be the face of a young Braves team making their first postseason appearance since 2013. It probably should not be this way, but it is hard to ignore the favoritism that exists between teams that are winning and teams that are not. The Braves are the new team on the block and Acuña is the hottest product on the market.
Juan Soto may hold a slight edge in this race now, but the stats are becoming increasingly similar:
It is quite shocking that Acuña is even in the running at this point. A few weeks ago, many were already handing Soto the award. However, this outrageous streak of hitting has pulled Acuña within an arm’s length with plenty of time remaining. And the scariest part, he might not even be done yet.
The 20-year old from Venezuela has been a notoriously slow starter (for his standards). Last season, he played at three different levels of the minor leagues, beginning with the Florida FireFrogs in A+ ball. He hit .287 before being promoted to Mississippi where he batted .326 and finally ended the season hitting .344 in fifty-four appearances with Gwinnett. Similarly, his batting average was forty-two points higher after the break in 2016. Even this season, he was hitting .211 with Gwinnett prior to receiving the call.
Perhaps that comes from his youthful exuberance. Braves manager Brian Snitker said after Game two of the doubleheader, “(Acuña) does not get tired, he only gets sleepy.” His lively presence has certainly changed the feeling around the clubhouse…
— Paul Byrd (@PaulByrd36) August 12, 2018
Juan Soto has been fantastic all season, but Acuña is beginning to take over this race with mind-boggling talent.