Ronald Acuna will not be moved off the leadoff spot for the Atlanta Braves, which is great news for him to have a big season again this year.
After offering a nice glimpse at his potential during his 2018 Rookie of the Year campaign, Atlanta Braves outfielder Ronald Acuna got to another level last year. He led the National League in runs scored (127) and stolen bases (37), with 41 home runs, 101 RBI, a .280 batting average and an .883 OPS.
If there’s a nit to pick, it’s that Acuna strikes out a lot (26.3 percent of his plate appearances last year). That whiff rate also had an uptick post-All-Star break last year, as he struck out 92 times in 303 plate appearances (30.4 percent). But he is a five-category fantasy baseball talent, with a very bright future at 22-years-old.
With the looming and eventual loss of third base Josh Donaldson in free agency, talk of dropping Acuna down to the middle of the Braves’ order came. But now, with the signing of outfielder Marcell Ozuna apparently not a factor, manager Brian Snitker has put that idea to rest.
As Snitker alluded to, Acuna hit fourth in Atlanta’s lineup until May 9 last season (157 plate appearances). His hitting numbers weren’t too bad (.276/.370/.478 slash-line, seven home runs, 22 RBI), but he notably had just two stolen bases in as many attempts over that span.
From May 10 on last year (119 games, 558 plate appearances), Acuna hit .280/.364/.528 with 34 home runs, 79 RBI and 35 steals on 44 attempts. Projected per 162 games, which Acuna nearly reached by playing in 156 games, that would be 47 home runs, 108 RBI and 48 stolen bases. Forget a 40-40 season, which he fell short of, Acuna may have had a run at a 50-50 season in him had he been hitting leadoff all season.
If availability is the greatest ability, Acuna passes that inspection too based on his NL-leading 715 plate appearances last year. So along with the extra opportunities which come from hitting leadoff, a projection of 155-160 games further raises Acuna’s ceiling.
Mike Trout has been the no-brainer No. 1 overall pick in fantasy baseball drafts going back years, with few if any legit challengers. Acuna is in that conversation this year though, with a better lineup around him and youth on his side in the argument to usurp Trout. A 40-40 season is hard to expect, but that’s in play for Acuna this year along with 120 runs scored, 90-100 RBI and a batting average in the .280 range.