In a season that was ultimately a successful one for the Atlanta Braves, it was their rookie, Ronald Acuna, who led the way and pushed this team back into the playoffs after winning the National League East division. Coming off a successful season in his own right, Acuna is looking to improve upon his 2018 campaign for 2019.
Having a rookie year that amounts to a 4.09 WAR is quite impressive, especially for a team that was flying by the seat of their pants throughout the season, playing up to a level that not many people had expected them to. Acuna turned into the proverbial team leader with first baseman Freddie Freeman, leading the charge while being the team’s spark plug when they needed it the most.
Hitting for a .293 average is impressive for a rookie, and he amassed that number over 111 games and 108 starts. Only having played in three games coming off the bench is unheard of, yet Acuna was setting benchmarks for players all across the league last season.
On top of his average, he also hit 26 home runs and had 127 hits, against only 123 strikeouts in 433 at-bats. A 28 percent strikeout-rate is average, but for a rookie who had no prior MLB plate experience prior to last season, it is an impressive feat.
For 2019, the sights have to be set to get back to the playoffs for Atlanta, which will be no easy task. The NL East has now souped up its rosters, as the New York Mets (Robinson Cano, Edwin Diaz), Washington Nationals (Patrick Corbin) and Philadelphia Phillies (J.T. Realmuto, Andrew McCutchen, Jean Segura) have all made crucial steps to all factor into the picture for the divisional crown for this upcoming season.
The lone team that figures to be all by itself back in last place is the dumpster fire that is the Miami Marlins, victims of shooting themselves in the foot. Having developed a farm system that produced Jose Fernandez (RIP), Giancarlo Stanton, 2018 NL MVP Christian Yelich, Marcell Ozuna and Realmuto shows their dedication to scouting, but how quickly these assets have been torn down due to the franchise’s willingness to move on for some reason from their core is an absolute travesty.
With Acuna and his Braves, the goals will revolve around his performance and how he is able to figure out MLB pitching this season, as his opponents will have a better way to handle him at the dish. With that in mind, here are three areas that Acuna should have his sights set on for 2019.
Hitting for above .300
While not an extreme goal, the idea of having a full season when you get a hit 3 out of 10 times at the plate is crucial to an overall team’s success. With Acuna helping spearhead the offensive attack for Atlanta, he must lead by example.
Only seven points off, playing in a bigger set of games this season will open Acuna up to around 100 more at-bats, making it imperative for him to improve his offensive approach. By having a WAR above four, that shows that even in a smaller sample size, Acuna’s impact on the team goes far beyond just his statistics.
This goal is quite reasonable to accomplish, but the team may end up moving him around in the batting order, presenting the second-year player with more challenges to overcome.
Become a bigger threat on the base paths
16 steals does not even begin to scratch the surface for Acuna, whose blazing speed was shown more in the gaps he covered in left field for the Braves. By being more active in stealing bases, this opens up more opportunities for situational hitting, while presenting himself as more of a threat on the base paths.
Acuna has the ability to swipe 35 or more bases in 2019, a number that he should shoot for right out of the gate. He stole, on average, a base every 9.3 percent of the time when he got on base, so whenever he got a hit or earned a free pass, he stole a pass just under 10 percent of the time.
If he can boost that number up to at minimum 15 to 17 percent over a larger sample size of at-bats, then he should be able to easily reach that 30-35 steal threshold.
Double your free passes
45 walks in 433 at-bats equals out to 10.4 percent of his at-bats resulted in a free pass, not bad for a rookie trying to demonstrate patience at the plate while having the urge to swing for the next town over. But this number is expected for a rookie, and not for a second-year veteran.
While ‘veteran’ may not be the best terminology to use when describing Acuna, he gained enough experience last season to show that no moment is too big for him, and that is why his offense is being put under a microscope and dissected for next season.
By earning at minimum 90 walks next year, he will not only be able to boost his on-base percentage, but he can also help better his teammates by displaying patience at the plate, while also helping round the lineup out better as there will be another included asset who can take a walk when needed.
For a rookie to come in and make the kind of impact that Acuna did for the Braves in 2018, his future is very tantalizing to think about, especially for Braves fans. He should be a cornerstone in this team’s plans for many, many years to come, and his potential has not even been touched yet, a testament to who he truly is now and what he can become as a player.