Black MLB Players You Need To Know About #3: Ronald Acuña Jr.

Background + Path To The MLB

Ronald Acuña Jr. is a 22 year-old outfielder from La Guaira, Venezuela. Acuña Jr. belongs to a family that has an extensive history with professional baseball. His grandfather and father played in the minor leagues, and he has one uncle and four cousins that played in the MLB at one point or another as well. Acuña Jr. has a younger brother named Luisangel that is an infielder in the Texas Rangers organization.

Ronald Acuña Jr. signed with the Atlanta Braves as an international free agent in 2014, for $100,000 dollars as a relatively unheralded international prospect. After not making much noise while progressing through the lower levels of the minor leagues, he exploded onto the scene as a top prospect in 2017. He tore through High-A, Double-A, and Triple-A in 2017, batting .325/.374/.522 with 21 homers, 82 RBIs, and 44 stolen bases in 139 games, along with making the MLB Futures Game roster during All-Star Weekend. After the 2017 season, he was invited to the Arizona Fall League, hitting 7 home runs in 23 games, winning the league championship, and becoming the youngest MVP in the history of the AFL. After the 2017 season, Acuña Jr. was viewed as a consensus top 3 prospect by all of the major entities that observe and rate minor league players.

After debuting in the 2018 season for the Atlanta Braves, Acuña Jr. exceeded the high expectations placed on him by the baseball world. Acuña Jr. was the youngest player in the MLB after he got called up, a distinction that formerly belonged to his teammate Ozhaino Albies. Acuña Jr. played 111 games in 2018, batting .293/.366/.552, playing above-average defense and showing off his elite athleticism and baseball IQ on the basepaths. In the 2018 postseason, he became the youngest player to hit a grand slam in a playoff game. After the 2018 season, he won 96% of the 1st place votes for the NL Rookie of the Year Award. In 2019, Acuña Jr. followed up his rookie season by leading the NL in runs scored, stolen bases, and hitting 41 home runs. Acuña Jr. showed off his 5 tool skillset, combining elite athleticism and elite baseball skills to affirm himself as one of the best baseball players on the planet.

Player Profile

Ronald Acuña Jr. is 6'0'’, and weighs 205 pounds, bats, and throws right-handed. Acuña Jr.’s approach at the plate is centered around attacking the fastball and pulling it into left field. Despite his pull-heavy approach, Acuña Jr. has a tremendous ability to hit the baseball the other way. He effortlessly flicks balls to the nosebleed seats in right field that some left-handed hitters could not dream of pulling to similar distances. Acuña Jr.’s eye at the plate is also excellent as he has posted above-average walk rates throughout his professional career. Acuña Jr. is very aggressive and strikes out a lot, but I would not deem this as problematic because he is an extremely productive offensive player regardless. Acuña Jr. frequently makes hard contact to all fields and gets on base at an above-average rate.

Acuña Jr. is one of the best baserunners in Major League Baseball and has been since he made his debut. He has elite athleticism, instincts, and baserunning skills. The Base Running statistic on FanGraphs.com is a great way to quantify an individual’s effectiveness on the basepaths without doing so solely based on stolen base percentage or the eye test.

Defensively, Acuña Jr. can play all three outfield spots, but profiles best in right field. He has the sprint speed to play centerfield, but his route running skills and reads are average at best. With Christian Pache(a generational defender) in centerfield, Acuña Jr. will move over to right field full time. Acuña Jr. has a very strong throwing arm and is more than capable of being an above-average defender due to all the tools he possesses. His instincts and baseball IQ enhances his ability significantly.

Conclusion

In my opinion, Acuña Jr. has a chance to be one of the best baseball players of this era due to his all-around productivity and youth. Acuña Jr. received the nickname “El Abusador” from Arizona Diamondbacks outfielder Sterling Marte for the way he punishes the baseball when he makes contact. Ronald Acuña Jr. has quickly become one of the faces of baseball, displaying a vibrant personality on and off the field to go along with his truly remarkable ability to play the game. Acuña Jr. has already established himself as a premier talent amongst the deep class of black players to establish themselves as major leaguers during the 2010s, which is a feat in itself. Acuña Jr. has drawn comparisons(albeit unfairly) to Hank Aaron and Roberto Clemente, but I understand the excitement because players that can do what Acuña Jr. does are very rare.

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