Atlanta’s had their fair share of one-hit wonders. They have had their Jeff Francouer’s and Marcus Giles’. They even had “the next Hank Aaron.” C’mon, you don’t remember when the media was gassing up Jason Heyward like that? They looked just alike for one memorable season. Baseball is full of flameouts – players who look like they are coming to save your franchise one year and are working in Sports Media the next (Sorry Frenchy).
That’s what brings us to the latest young Braves pheñom, Ronald Acuña. Like Jason Heyward, the hype around this kid was unreal coming into the 2019 season. When Atlanta finally decided to call him up last May, it was like a national holiday in Braves Country and could be one day when all things are said and done. But unlike so many over-hyped prospects, Acuña soared past the loftiest of expectations.
After a lukewarm start and a cringing injury that cost him a month, Acuña went on a run unlike any other in the season’s second half. In August, he hit a home run in five straight games, including three games in a row where he led off the game with a gorgeous, high-arching missile into the bleachers. Acuña would finish that month with a slash line of .336/.405/.698 and an OPS of 1.103. He’d then cap the year off with a splendid September and cruise to the NL Rookie of the Year Award.
If that wasn’t enough to have the typically emotional Braves’ fan claiming Acuña was going to be the best player ever to rock the Tomahawk across his chest, then this surely did the trick.
Ronald Acuña Jr. with the grand slam 🔥🔥🔥🔥
He's the youngest player in postseason history with a grand slam, at 20 years, 293 days old. pic.twitter.com/kLDD9nDAL3
— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) October 8, 2018
The excitement at SunTrust Park as Acuña gracefully admired the ball he just walloped into the clear, starry sky was unlike any other in recent memory, even when the Braves last won a playoff series back in 2001. The fans knew coming back against the Dodgers was going to be nearly impossible, but at that moment, if there were any doubters left, they also knew something special lied ahead for this 20-year old superstar and the organization itself.
So I’m supposed to tell you the hype has gone too far; We have to tone down our expectations; Baseball is not like other sports where progression is linear; In this sport, there is a Hall of Fame of flameouts and overreactions.
But I’m not going to to do that. Because I am one of those overly emotional Braves fans, and I am 100,000% fully bought into the Acuña hype train.
In my 20+ years of being a die-hard Braves fans, there isn’t a player that has ruffled my feathers quite like Acuña. I was only a year old when Andruw Jones broke into the league in 1996 with a couple of home runs in the World Series as a 19-year old. Chipper Jones is a childhood hero that I will try to tell my kids about but will never get much of a reaction in return. Jason Heyward almost had me, but always left me searching for something more. But this Acuña kid, he has the type of talent to capture multiple generations – even those that will never be blessed with the opportunity to watch him.
There isn’t a single thing Acuña cannot do on the baseball field. He is fast enough to steal 40 bases, can play any position in the outfield, has perhaps the smoothest hitting stroke in the MLB, and possesses inhuman power for a person his size. Almost every time he makes contact, the ball comes off like a rocket, and God forbid if the pitcher is lucky enough to keep the ball in the infield, his defense better be on their toes because Acuña never ceases to hustle.
Above all that, is the childish joy he plays with, reminding everyone why we fell in love with the game of baseball in the first place. The Braves don’t lack a smile or a joke with Acuña in the clubhouse. That chemistry is part of the reason why, despite them being somewhat undermanned in 2018, Atlanta was able to run away with the NL East. In just over 100 games, Acuña captured the attention of his peers and coaches, but most importantly: the entire city of Atlanta.
So it’s time to be bold, and I’m betting on the legend of Ronald Acuña to take the next step in 2019 by winning the NL MVP trophy.
Acuña opened at 33/1 odds to take home the award. That number has already been bet down to 20/1 – clearly, a few people are beginning to catch on.
However, not only do I believe Acuña will win the MVP, he is going to run away with it. We all saw what he was capable of in the season’s second half. Perhaps there would be a reason to temper our expectations if this isn’t exactly what he was doing at every level of the minor leagues. And Acuña has continued his dominating effort right into spring training.
Acuña, providing he is healthy, is going to hit over .300; he will send at least 30 balls out of the yard, if not closer to 40, and will steal between 20 and 30 bases. This is a transcendent talent, and he doesn’t have to compete with the likes of Mike Trout, Mookie Betts, and Jose Altuve for the award. I’m all aboard the Acuña-hype train as he rides his sweet-swinging stroke to the 2019 NL MVP award.