Player Previews – Ronald Acuna

The 2018 National League Rookie of the Year is a younger, better version of Ozzie Albies, at least offensively. We have a limited sample to evaluate the 21 year old on, but what a sample it is, and it’s not *in*significant. 111 games, 427 plate appearances, and a .293/.366/.552 BA/OBP/SP, including 26 home runs in 433 AB. He stole 16 bases in 21 attempts.

Defensively, Baseball Reference credits him with a -0.1 dWAR. His range factor in Left Field was below the league average, and his 5 errors there were 2nd most in the league. By the eyeball test, he does not appear to be as advanced on his routes to the baseball as he is a hitter. Let’s keep in mind that Ronald was only 20 years old last season, and most likely will improve on the routes with more repetitions and experience, particularly since he had limited minor league experience in LF.

Acuna played mostly Center Field in the minors, and is widely acknowledged to have the ability to play there. If Ronald moves to CF in the future, he should give the Braves a great comparative advantage there, offensively.

Acuna rocketed through the minors, with only 134 games played above A+ ball, but everything in his limited record there supports the notion that he will hit, (AA = 243 PA, .326/.374/.520; AAA = 344 AB, .305/.364/.466) and I’m on board. (CNN will not be interrupting regularly scheduled broadcasting to bring us this breaking news.)

Author: Rusty S.

Rusty S. is a Braves Journal reader since 2005 and an occasional innings-eater. It was my understanding that there would be no expectations.

63 thoughts on “Player Previews – Ronald Acuna”

  1. Russo and his sidekick went on at some length this morning about Seaver and his time in New York. They placed him above Namath/LT and Jeter in the public’s affections.

    Also, after the trade to Cincinnati, he reckoned the Seaver/Bench battery non pareil.

  2. Since World War II, it’s Seaver, Clemens, Maddux, and Randy Johnson, in whatever order you like. Honestly, I had never realized just how good he was after he left Flushing: from ages 32 to 41, he threw 1968 1/3 innings and had a 3.39 ERA (116 ERA+).

    At ages 39 and 40 with the White Sox, he threw 475 1/3 innings — over 235 each year! — with a 3.56 ERA (ERA+ of 119). He damn near never threw a bad inning of ball.

    Volume, consistency, excellence. He’s the Frank Robinson of pitchers.

  3. As someone that played the outfield at a fairly high level in HS with at least 1 scholarship offer in college, as crazy as this sounds, I always felt like playing CF was easier than especially RF and harder than LF but not by a ton.

    I always felt like you can just see the ball so much better as a CF, it helped your jumps, the ball is usually hit straight, unlike in RF where almost every ball is slicing.

    I never felt as uncomfortable on a baseball field as I did playing RF. It felt wholly unnatural to me. If Acuna played CF as a kid, or even in the Minors, it wouldn’t be surprising to me to see someone struggle at LF or RF. It’s a different feel and skill set.

  4. Yeah. LF is easy. CF is simple, logistically, but you have to be fast enough to cover more ground. RF gets super stupid spin off of the bat unless it’s a dead pull LHB.

  5. I could understand that, if you really have the range and skills to play CF, it would be “easier” than RF or LF — because you can get truer reads off the ball, plus you get a much better view of the pitch sequence and the field in front of you, which I’m sure helps your first step.

    But over the next five years, the best center fielder in the organization is unquestionably Pache.

  6. Bill James wrote about the weird paradox that the best left fielders are way better defensive players than the best defensive right fielders… but the worst defensive left fielders are way worse than the worst defensive right fielders. The best defensive LFs are CFs who don’t have the arm for it, whereas the worst LFs are 1Bs who have a better 1B already on the team. A RF who was as good as the best LF is actually a CF, but you do actually need a decent defender in RF or else other teams will constantly take free bases against you, so the overall standard of the position can’t ever drop as low as it is in LF.

  7. Yes, in many ways I found CF the easiest. It was mostly about having the speed, otherwise the routes were simple. After that I was most comfortable in RF, and found LF the strangest/most uncomfortable. It’s what you’re used to that matters.

  8. Darren O’Day has forearm tightness after missing last season. Methinks we shouldn’t count on any contributions from him.

  9. Today’s WSJ: “Walt Disney Co. is in advanced talks to sell a majority stake in YES Network…in a deal that would value the sports network at around $3.5 billion, according to people familiar with the matter….The YES Network was valued at $3.9 billion in 2014 when Fox bought its 80% stake.

    The decline in YES’s value is indicative of the challenges regional sports networks are facing as more consumers abandon their traditional cable and satellite pay-TV providers in favor of streaming services.”

    This next labor negotiation is going to be really, really difficult. But I guess we all knew that.

  10. Not to toot my own horn, but the problems that baseball is careering towards right now were possible to foresee years ago. Baseball went all-in on massive TV deals to grow the revenue of the sport, which effectively allowed them to ignore the real problem of failing to attract new young fans.

    For reasons that utterly mystify me, rather than trying to grow the game, owners took a zero-sum approach to dividing up the pot. And that’s increasing the likelihood of a catastrophe that will hurt all of us.

  11. On top of that, it seems entirely possible that any changes to MLB games made in response to said catastrophe, looming or in progress, will fail to attract a new audience and instead alienate some of the current audience.

  12. @16 Bingo! I recognize the importance of trying to grow the game’s fan-base, but it’s foolish to do so by altering the game in ways which will turn off the fans you have. They’re playing a zero-sum game. Manfred is either too blind, or too stubborn to see this.

    For instance, for those who maybe haven’t seen, take a gander at some of the rules they’re experimenting with in the Atlantic League this season…

    -Home plate umpire assisted in calling balls and strikes by a TrackMan radar tracking system.
    -No mound visits permitted by players or coaches other than for pitching changes or medical issues.
    -Pitchers must face a minimum of three batters, or reach the end of an inning before they exit the game, unless the pitcher becomes injured.
    -Increase the size of 1st, 2nd and 3rd base from 15 inches square to 18 inches square.
    -Require two infielders to be on each side of second base when a pitch is released (if not, the ball is dead and the umpire shall call a ball).
    -Time between innings and pitching changes reduced from 2:05 to 1:45.
    -Distance from pitching rubber to home plate extended 24 inches, in the second half of the season only; with no change to mound height or shape.

    Some, like changing the size of the bases, are relatively harmless, I guess. Most fundamentally change the way the game is played, however- and I hate it. I don’t want to see changes to the game, because I was drawn to baseball for what it is. There’s a beauty to it that’s different than other sports. Although, if Manfred wants to overhaul the game, I have no qualms about turning off the television, and finding something else to do with my time.

    If they want to grow the game, and appeal to a younger audience, they need to do the one thing they won’t- which is allow the players to show their personalities on the field.

  13. -Home plate umpire assisted in calling balls and strikes by a TrackMan radar tracking system.
    -No mound visits permitted by players or coaches other than for pitching changes or medical issues.
    -Pitchers must face a minimum of three batters, or reach the end of an inning before they exit the game, unless the pitcher becomes injured.
    -Increase the size of 1st, 2nd and 3rd base from 15 inches square to 18 inches square.
    -Require two infielders to be on each side of second base when a pitch is released (if not, the ball is dead and the umpire shall call a ball).
    -Time between innings and pitching changes reduced from 2:05 to 1:45.
    -Distance from pitching rubber to home plate extended 24 inches, in the second half of the season only; with no change to mound height or shape.

    Yes, yes, not my preferred solution but at least it’s a try, this is utterly stupid, this is even worse than bigger bases, I don’t think this will impact the things they are trying to fix, either move it back all the time, or leave it where it is.

  14. @19 – Duvall got a hit in his first at bat and his average went up 44 points. Whether he makes the roster or not has a whole lot more to do with good at bats and coaches evaluation than batting average. My guess is Duvall has done enough for the Braves to put him on the opening day roster, but I wouldn’t rule out a trade for an outfield upgrade a few months into the season.

  15. @21 I wish I could say you’re wrong, but you’re probably right. As his average continues to plummet, he’s becoming closer to Chris Davis, versus a serviceable big leaguer, though.

    It’s baffling why they just won’t make Adam Jones an offer, and cut bait with Duvall. Give him 40 of Nick’s starts, 20 of Ender’s, and maybe 10-15 (for rest) of Acuna’s, and DH him during inter-league. Pretty easy to get him 300 ABs, without even factoring in PH.

  16. I don’t see any harm in keeping Duvall around. He’s really not going to play much with Camargo and Culberson. There’s still just so much potential there if his stroke is not completely lost. I’m sure if his bat speed has slowed or something debilitating was evident, he’ll be jettisoned.

    I imagine Adam Jones wants to get more than 300 ABs, and I don’t know if he should even get that much.

  17. @24 Duvall didn’t hit a HR in an Atlanta uniform last season, which at the time, I tried not to bash him for. New city, new role- it’s hard, I’m sure. He’s 3-23 on the Spring now too, though. If he’s not getting consistent ABs, I’d imagine that also lessens the chances he works himself back into form.

    Honest question: game on the line, are you going to Duvall in a big spot with confidence?

  18. No, and you don’t have to. Would I pinch-hit for him in the 6th with the game not on the line? Sure. He’s the 4th guy on the bench, and I’d pinch-hit Camargo/Kakes, Culberson, and even the catcher before him. No big deal.

  19. Riley has played almost no OF this spring, and he’s getting work in at first base. It doesn’t appear he’s athletic enough to play the OF. I had my reservations about whether that was going to work anyway. And when I saw Camargo get thrown out by 5 feet trying to steal third the other day, I have my reservation about him working in the outfield either, which is really not good.

  20. Mark Bowman: “Ultimately, I think we’re long past the era within which there was seemingly a need for a bona fide cleanup hitter. It makes more sense to attempt to maximize the potential production value of Donaldson and Freeman by ensuring Acuna is going to factor into the equation. The only way to do so is to put him in the leadoff spot.”

    Uh… what?…

    I totally understand batting Donaldson second, if that’s where he’s comfortable. I’m also in support of keeping Acuna in the leadoff spot, because he did so well there. However, just because the Braves don’t have a true #4 hitter, doesn’t mean we’ve moved past “the era” of needing one! This guy sometimes… Smh…

    That’d be like an Marlins writer saying “Listen, we’re long past the era of needing 9 ML quality ballplayers on the field at a time.”

  21. Bowman can’t exactly say that Braves management was negligent in not acquiring another big bat this offseason if he wants to keep his job.

    That’s what we’re here for. ;)

  22. I think he’s simply saying that if you have three elite power hitters, you don’t need to have one of them hitting in the 4 spot, which is fine. But then the argument from fans is that we should have a 4th elite hitter. I don’t think any team, though, in the East has 4 elite hitters.

  23. Right. The point is that you maximize at bats for all three, and the way to do that is to bat them 1/2/3 with Acuna at leadoff. There’s no reason to take one of them and drop him to #4, just because “traditionally” you have a power hitter in the “cleanup spot.” You don’t put Ender Inciarte at the top of the order just because you want one of your power guys at #4.

  24. @32 I’d agree that it’s not a must to have an elite hitter in the 4 hole, if you’ve got elite hitters stacked 1-3. I’d argue you still need a good source of power there, however. For instance, I wouldn’t classify Hunter Renfroe as “elite”, but look how different the order would look if you slotted him at 4…

    1) Acuna
    2) Donaldson
    3) Freeman
    4) Renfroe
    5) McFlow
    6) Albies
    7) Inciarte
    8) Swanson

    A trade isn’t happening at this point, I know. I’m just throwing Renfroe out there to help illustrate a point about how much easier the order slots into place. You don’t need Harper or Machado to do it, either.

  25. @33 I don’t disagree with the logic there. Sure, you want to maximize the ABs for your 3 potential MVP candidates. The thing is, his first sentence clearly states he believes you don’t need a bona fide clean up hitter anymore. So he’s making an argument that you don’t need a source of power at 4 every bit as much as he is for maximizing the best hitters ABS. That’s crazy. If that’s not the point he was trying to make, then he worded it extremely poorly.

  26. Interesting stats from Julio’s start today. 26 pitches, 22 strikes in 3 innings. If he can stay away from gopher balls, that kind of control will come in handy.

  27. Can anybody explain to me why the obvious lineup construction (first 4) isn’t:

    against lefthanders:

    Albies
    Donaldson / Acuna
    Freeman
    Acuna / Donaldson

    And against righthanders:

    Markakis
    Donaldson / Acuna
    Freeman
    Acuna / Donaldson

    I would rather it be Acuna 2 and Donaldson 4 because I don’t want the faster guy batting behind the slower guy.

  28. I know spring training stats are meaningless, but I’m wondering if we’ll see evidence of a greater focus on throwing strikes soon after the season starts. If Julio’s start today is an indication, it will be interesting.

  29. (B)Allard is why you don’t horde all of these TINSTAAPPs. Now, he has no value, or almost no value. If you had traded him, you could have gotten something for him.

    He won’t be nearly the last one of these, either.

  30. Now more than ever, it would seem Kakes belongs in the leadoff spot. I wonder if he just doesn’t like it.

  31. Allard was the kind of prospect you try to hold onto until he lost velocity, which was a while ago now. Other teams aren’t stupid. They can read radar guns too. He had lots of value until suddenly he didn’t. And it’s hard, if not impossible, to predict who that’ll happen to.

    That’s the problem with being the guy who perennially predicts the Braves will finish in fourth place. Every once in a while you may be right, but you’ll have no idea why.

  32. @46 So you’re saying Camargo is going to hit more HRs than Renfroe this season, Sam? I don’t see it. That’s really what a clean up hitter should do.

    Now, is Camargo going to be the better hitter overall? Quite possibly, I don’t know. I’d imagine his average will be better.

  33. Chief’s the guy telling you all week it’s going to rain, and on Friday it finally rains, and he says, “Told you.”

    Some prospects don’t work out. A lot do. And if you want to win an unfair game, you’re going to need a lot of them.

  34. The farm system in the mid to late ’80’s and very early ’90’s had a shit ton of highly regarded pitching prospects. A handful worked out.

  35. The lineup is definitely short on power, though I wouldn’t say it’s short on elite hitters. But best case, the catchers, SS, CF, and RF will combine for about a .420 SLG, maybe 60 or so home runs, and even Camargo won’t change that a ton. They were 19th in home runs last year, and Donaldson might get them into the top half, but not by much. But in overall run production, adding Donaldson and expecting more out of SS will probably get us from a 15th ranking in wRC+ to closer to top 10. So it just depends on what you care about the most.

  36. @49 We started the rebuild by acquiring Fried, Wisler, and Folty, and then a year later Newcomb and Blair. Folty looks like a TOR, Newk was 46th in pitching fWAR last year (so maybe a MOR+?), the book is still out on Fried but he ranges from a very good reliever to a MOR, Wisler looks like he’ll be a decent middle reliever, and Blair was a bust. And those were guys 2 to 3 years into their professional careers.

    We drafted Allard and Soroka in the 2015 draft. I’m willing to say that until Allard’s control or velocity improves, he’s probably not going to even be a reliever, so he’s a bust, for now. Soroka ranges anywhere from the classic elite pitcher derailed by injuries to still a TOR candidate. We also drafted a reliever with an injury history towards the top of that draft who pitched in Atlanta two years later.

    We went with a pitcher in the first 3 rounds in the 2016 draft. Two professional seasons in, all 3 are in AA. At least one could see Atlanta this year.

    Our 2017 high pick is already a candidate to land a rotation spot one professional season in.

    How is that — at most — significantly worse than if you drafted and traded for all hitters, and even if that is worse… who would be pitching for you right now? I’m really not buying the “only a handful of pitching prospects work out” adage.

  37. @52 I’m far more impressed with this crop of prospects than the ones from before. I’m confident the farm will produce a deep staff. But a number of these guys will not pan out. And that’s why it was a good strategy to stockpile them.

    I’m not saying that it would have been better to focus on position players.

  38. @55 – Agreed. If you like someone who will take some walks, he’s not the guy. When his batting average starts dropping into the .260 range, the Dbacks will be extremely thankful that they signed him to only a 1 year deal.

  39. @52 It helps that many of our future position players/prospects were already in the system when the rebuild began (Acuna, Albies, Peraza, Camargo) and the drafts were not devoid of position prospects (Riley, Waters) and trades (Swanson, Jackson, Mallex). Even more have come since from International signings (Pache, Contreras). I can’t imagine what the system would look like if we had “concentrated” on position prospects. In this respect, particularly the International pipeline, the Braves have been very lucky in the rebuild. If we really had “only” really highly rated pitching prospects, but no position prospects, we’d have emptied the system by now trying to balance it.

    And, for all the kvetching, very few of the prospects have totally busted so far. Take Allard – not sure what he will or will not become – but he is still only 20/21. He’s got at least two more years before he’s a bust. And Blair has a couple of more years – after he returns from TJ – before he is a total bust. All we can say is that they are a bust “so far”. Blair could be Charlie Morton 2.0 and we won’t know for 10 years.

  40. Jones may see some artificial SLG increase from playing in Arizona half the year, but in general, he’s 32 (only two years younger than Neck), he’s got a ton of CF wear and tear on his body, he’s never been an elite offensive player (he’s always been a BABIP/SLG driven hitter), and last year his defense was atrocious (-2.3 WAR.)

    I’d rather have Neck on the contract we have him on than Jones on the contract the Dbacks gave him.

  41. I don’t buy that Markakis is a better player than Jones. That was true in 2018 and at literally no other point in the past six years. They’re both toast, but Jones was a good player more recently than Neck was, fluky first half notwithstanding.

    I can marginally accept the argument that Markakis is worth more to us right now than Jones is, because of his preexisting relationship with the city and team, but I don’t see enough evidence to push the proposition Kakes > Jones into the realm of statistical confidence.

  42. @61 The big difference is in the OBP. Jones is a notorious bad ball hitter who rarely walks. He’ll give you more power and maybe more clutch hitting but his defense and BA are equal to Kakes and Kakes has him by 50 points on OBP.

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