If you are looking for much of a critique of Ronald Acuna Jr., you won’t find it here. If you could get in a lab and engineer the perfect player for modern-day baseball, it would be Ronald Acuna Jr. He’s not a perfect player, and I suppose I’ll be a little constructive later on. But in terms of what the game needs right now — an elite, 5-tool player who the game can actually market — then he’s one of your guys. Listen, I like Mike Trout, but I don’t think he’s the star of the league. In fact, and I’m sure you might take offense, but I didn’t hate the comments Manfred made about Trout not wanting to be the star of the show. Bryce Harper is unlikeable. Ronald Acuna Jr., at some point, probably joins Mookie Betts as being the most exciting players in baseball.
First things first, let me tell you about Acuna’s season. Acuna just missed his first 1.000 OPS season, and it may not have been his fault. His final line was impressive: .250/.406/.581 in 202 PAs. You have to love the walk rate and slugging. And you might be turned off by the low batting average. But 202 PAs is enough of a sample size to see that he got a little unlucky. In his first two seasons, he hit .343 on balls in play. This past year, he only hit .302 on balls in play. Maybe there’s some launch angle stuff going on there, but if a few more hits fall in, the batting average looks a little shinier, and he clears that 1.000 OPS.
He didn’t lead the league in stolen bases again (his 37 steals led the league in 2019), but 8 stolen bases in 9 attempts in the shortened season is plenty good for our man Acuna. And how about this for a fun number: if Acuna got the same amount of PAs as he did in 2019, he would have been on pace for 49 home runs based on his 2020 power performance. His strike out rate ticked up a little (29% compared to 26% in 2019), but his walk rate almost doubled (from 10% in 2019 to almost 19% this year). I see no reason why someone who clearly loves the game as much as Acuna does won’t continue to get better.
And this is what leads me to thinking there is a next step for him. He will begin to become the face of Major League Baseball when he starts bankrupting hearts the way Mookie Betts and Mike Trout do in the outfield. I don’t want to be a victim of the moment, but Betts’ Gold Glove plays throughout the playoffs provides the highlights that make jaws drop. When that happens, you’re in the inner circle. I think Acuna gets there. He’s plenty athletic, and my gut tells me that Acuna wants to be the best player in baseball. He’s close.