Two Acuna brothers in the majors? Luisangel out to make a name for himself

Ronald Acuna is presented his All-Star jersey by his brother Luisangel Acuna last year.  Curtis Compton/ccompton@ajc.com

Combined ShapeCaption
Ronald Acuna is presented his All-Star jersey by his brother Luisangel Acuna last year. Curtis Compton/ccompton@ajc.com

KINSTON, N.C. - The 19-year-old steps into the batters box and you can see the same gate-crashing zest that personifies his older brother’s game. The gold chains around his neck. The glowing orange batting gloves. The wrists wrapped in bright green tape. Little brother also has big brother’s piercing eyes that say, “You sure you want to throw me a strike.”

Before the pitch, he has the quiet bat, too, and the low hands, just like his older brother. And the violent swing that screws him into the dirt? He repeats his brother that way, too.

Luisangel Acuna, who plays shortstop for the Down East Wood Ducks, a low Single-A team in the Texas Rangers’ minor league system, has assimilated a lot of his older brother, Ronald Acuna, into his game. And why not. Ronald, the Braves’ right fielder, is Luisangel’s hero, and his mentor.

Asked if he can be as good as his older brother, Luisangel said through his interpreter and manager Carlos Cardoza-Oquendo, “There will never be another Ronald Acuna Jr. I will just be Luisangel Acuna.”

That should be good enough.

Cardoza-Oquendo said the Rangers, from top to bottom in the organization, know they have a future big league hitter in the system. Acuna’s .252 batting average doesn’t tell the truth about the barrels of the bat he puts on the baseball and the exit speed.

“Luisangel will play in the big leagues,” Cardoza-Oquendo said. “He’s a championship-type player that the organization values and believes will be a successful major leaguer for a long time.”

Through 45 games playing in front of fans for the first time in his pro career, Acuna has four home runs, 13 stolen bases, and 27 RBIs while hitting second in the order. He is the sixth-rated prospect in the Rangers organization.

By the time he was 19, Ronald Acuna was hitting .325 as he jetted up from Single-A to Double-A to Triple-A in 2017. Of course, Luisangel also missed the entire 2020 season when minor league baseball was shut down because of the pandemic, so at 19 he is not going to be where his brother was at when he was 19.

Asked if he felt any pressure being the brother of an emerging superstar, Luisangel said through Cardoza-Oquendo, “No, I go out and play my game. Some people want to compare.”

Imagine the comparisons if things had gone according to the family’s plan and Luisangel was in the Braves’ minor league system.

When he was 14, in April 2016, Luisangel worked out in their hometown, LaSabana, Venezuela, for Braves scout Rolando Petit, who signed Ronald Acuna and Ozzie Albies. Petit was sufficiently impressed with Luisangel that he called the Braves’ front office and received permission to keep the dialogue open with the family about a contract. Luisangel and his father were overjoyed the Braves had firm interest, and Ronald Sr., stopped taking Luisangel to showcases in front of scouts from other clubs. He was off the market.

Then, on Dec. 21, 2017, Petit and other international scouts were fired by the Braves as part of the fallout of the club’s illegal deals for international players under former general manager John Coppolella. The Braves had their pool of money for international players significantly reduced by Major League Baseball and could not sign Luisangel.

Officially, MLB stripped the Braves of 13 international prospects. The number was really 14 because Luisangel Acuna was one of the casualties.

“I called Ronald Sr., and told him the news with the Braves and he put him out on the market,” Petit said.

The Rangers signed Luisangel on July 2, 2018 for $425,000, $325,000 more than his brother received from the Braves. It was a good deal for Texas because fringe big leaguers are signed for that money these days. Cardoza-Oquendo said there is nothing fringe about Acuna.

“Offensively, he had to adjust to the league and be able to control the zone. But more than anything, he just needed AB’s (at bats) and to trust himself,” Cardoza-Oquendo said “Some of the adjustments he’s making, they’re normal adjustments a hitter makes in their maturation process. What’s not normal is the ability and bat to ball speed. The engine’s there. And now he’s starting to take his walks.”

Defensively, the Rangers are sticking with Luisangel as a shortstop, though many had projected him at second base. Cardoza-Oquendo insists Acuna has the range and glove to be a big league shortstop and he is developing instincts and savvy to go with the raw skills.

“We had a situation in a game where there was a swing and a foul ball and you can tell the runner on third is (going for home) on contact,” Cardoza-Oquendo said. “Luisangel goes to the third baseman and says ‘he’s on contact’. He goes to second baseman and says ‘he’s on contact’ and he tells the second baseman to tell the first baseman.

“That’s the gamer in him. It’s an awareness piece. That was cool to see, but it is also the expectation we have for him in the organization.”

Luisangel and Ronald Acuna have the same father, but different mothers, which helps explain the difference in height. Luisangel is listed at 5-foot-7, Ronald at 6-0. Ronald’s mother has a brother, Rosmel Blanco, who is 6-9 and played basketball at Division I Sam Houston State.

Basketball is a family tradition. They play often in the offseason in December when Ronald organizes a town basketball tournament in LaSabana. The different trades in town organize teams — the baseball players are one squad — and they compete on a court near the town square.

Ronald and Luisangel did not grow up in the same house, but they saw each other frequently at, where else, the ballfield next to the town cemetery. They would also hang out together downtown, Luisangel said. They really became close after Ronald signed with the Braves. He was 17 and took his little brother, then 13, under his wing and started working out with him.

Even now, they communicate frequently, either by video call or text. They are alike in many ways, but Luisangel seems more shy and reserved than his older brother.

Still, he is not shy about adopting his big brother’s capriciousness. Luisangel has hit four home runs for the Woodies and on each, he mimics Ronald’s stutter step and shimmy just before reaching third base.

So far, there is no sign of a need for circuit breakers with the younger Acuna, like with his brother, who has received scoldings for watching long blasts bounce off the outfield wall, or trying to stretch a double into a triple, down two runs late in a close game.

But he has enough of his brother’s other bold characteristics and his own style that the game will benefit from having two Acunas, not just one.

Combined ShapeCaption
Luisangel Acuna, brother of Braves' Ronald Acuna Jr., is playing in the Texas Rangers farm system with the Down East Wood Ducks.

Credit: Matthew Edwards

Luisangel Acuna, brother of Braves' Ronald Acuna Jr., is playing in the Texas Rangers farm system with the Down East Wood Ducks.

Credit: Matthew Edwards

Combined ShapeCaption
Luisangel Acuna, brother of Braves' Ronald Acuna Jr., is playing in the Texas Rangers farm system with the Down East Wood Ducks.

Credit: Matthew Edwards

Credit: Matthew Edwards

Combined ShapeCaption
Luisangel Acuna, brother of Braves' Ronald Acuna Jr., is playing in the Texas Rangers farm system with the Down East Wood Ducks.

Credit: Matthew Edwards

Luisangel Acuna, brother of Braves' Ronald Acuna Jr., is playing in the Texas Rangers farm system with the Down East Wood Ducks.

Credit: Matthew Edwards

Combined ShapeCaption
Luisangel Acuna, brother of Braves' Ronald Acuna Jr., is playing in the Texas Rangers farm system with the Down East Wood Ducks.

Credit: Matthew Edwards

Credit: Matthew Edwards