When Nick Markakis was sidelined by a fractured wrist a couple weeks ago, it mandated Ronald Acuna shift over the right field. That might’ve been the catalyst to the Braves finding their right fielder for the next decade.
Acuna has dazzled in his new spot, showing his powerful arm and preposterous accuracy. The 21-year-old, who’s played center and left this season, looks natural in right.
“I really like him there,” manager Brian Snitker said. “Just watching him out there playing, that looks like the spot he needs to be. I think we take advantage of his skillset better there. He’s done a really good job in center, left field, but that arm really plays in right field. He’s confident in it. It’s a weapon. Strong and accurate.”
Take Aug. 5 for instance. Acuna tracked down a ball in right and fired to second, retiring Jason Castro as he tried taking a routine double. It was a prime example of how useful his tools can be in the new position.
During the team’s last road trip, Acuna fired an eye-popping missile to third in Washington. The runner was safe, but the throw perfectly displayed how valuable Acuna’s strength-accuracy combo can be. On film, it should certainly make runners think twice before chasing the extra base.
“It’s been big,” general manager Alex Anthopoulos said. “He’s made some great plays. He’s always had a great arm. If you look at all the Statcast numbers, he’s right up there. Probably 90th percentile in arm strength. We knew he was a five-tool player and he could do those things. It’s nice having a guy like that who can play all three (outfield spots).”
Acuna’s stellar right-field work comes as he ramps up his pursuit of the fifth 40-40 (homers-steals) season in MLB history. Acuna has 32 homers and 28 steals with 43 games remaining (including Sunday).
Whenever Markakis returns, Acuna will likely move back to left. But perhaps this glimpse will impact the Braves’ long-term thinking with top prospects Cristian Pache and Drew Waters on the way.
The much-discussed future outfield setup could include Pache in center, Waters in left and Acuna — with his stand-out arsenal — in right.
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