It’s not just Atlanta Braves fan who are noticing what the 20-year-old phenom is doing. Now, all of baseball is taking notice of what the Braves have.
Atlanta Braves fans figured out what a special talent Ronald Acuna Jr. was when he came to prominence during last season’s Spring Training. In 16 games, Acuna belted 4 home run and added 11 RBI to go with it. Add on 4 stolen bases and a .432 average, and Braves fan were starting to see the kind of talent that this kid possessed. Fast forward to the regular season, Acuna hit 26 home runs and had a .293 batting average. He was awarded Rookie of the Year honors for his effort.
This season has been no different for Ronald Acuna Jr. In 23 games, Acuna has 6 home runs and a .301 batting average. Also, his defense and base running have been stellar for the Braves. In the early part of the season, Acuna is already posting a 1.8 WAR, wins above replacement, which is a stat that tries to combine all stats to prove a players actual value. The only players in all of baseball with a higher WAR are Mike Trout and Cody Bellinger. Not bad company to be in for the 20-year-old.
The Braves may have one of the best, if not the best, young player in all of baseball. But that doesn’t mean Acuna can do it all by himself. Look at Mike Trout and his ominous lack of playoff baseball. No matter how good a player is, that player will still need support around him. Luckily for the Braves and Acuna, the Braves have surrounded him with more than enough talent. Freddie Freeman, the veteran and heart of the team, is the consistent force the Braves need when the other players are fledgling. Ozzie Albies and Dansby Swanson, two players who don’t equal the kind of talent Acuna has, but are two players who can carry a game by themselves with their offense or defense in any given game.
The Braves have the support in place for Acuna to succeed. Brian Snitker had the foresight to move Acuna to the cleanup spot, a place in the lineup Acuna was not accustomed to playing in. But the move has been a stroke of genius by the Braves manager. Moving Acuna to the cleanup slot has put Acuna in more positions to knock in runs for the team. And he’s seeing more pitches with Freddie Freeman in front of him as protection.
Freddie Freeman has been the outright, undisputed leader of the Braves for some time now. Freeman assumed that position during the dreadful rebuilding years after the Braves cratered and traded away every asset they had, excluding only Freeman. In past years, Freeman has been an MVP candidate for the Braves, finishing in the top 6 of MVP voting in 2013, 2016, and 2018. In his time with the Braves, Freeman has turned himself into one of the better first basemen in all of baseball. There is no denying that. But now, in his 9th season with the Braves, Freeman doesn’t have to be the leader. It’s time to let that role be filled by Acuna.
Acuna is the face and future of the Braves, whether Braves fans want to admit this or not is another question. Acuna doesn’t just have the most talent of any player on the Braves roster, he is the best player on the roster. Freeman is older and more experienced, but Acuna is capable of things Freeman just can’t and won’t be able to do. It’s not a slight against Freddie, it’s just the changing of the guards. Freeman can still be a very good player, maybe even an MVP candidate, but I doubt it. That spotlight belongs to Acuna now.