Ronald Acuna will be manning center field for the foreseeable future, and perhaps the remainder of the season, following Ender Inciarte’s hamstring strain that will sideline him four-to-six weeks.
Acuna has logged 72 games in center entering Sunday, 30 more than he’s played in left. He handled those duties exclusively during Inciarte’s first stint on the injured list due to a lumbar strain.
While Acuna isn’t viewed as a long-term center fielder, he’s made strides in anticipation and baseball IQ. Inciarte, who’s previously called Acuna the best player he’s seen, has mentored Acuna as a center fielder.
“He’s still young and he’s going to keep improving as a hitter, as a defender,” Inciarte said. “He’s just going to continue to get better. One thing I always tell him is to not try making miracles happen. That’s when you start making some mistakes.
“I always tell him, don’t try to dive in a situation where the runner can take an extra base. If you’re sure you can stop the runner from taking the extra base, that’s when you do it. Small things like that are going to help him mature and become consistent in the outfield with making better decisions.”
That’s the key for Acuna, taking what’s in front of him. Arguably the most dynamic young player in the game, Acuna has a propensity for the spectacular even when unnecessary. He’s dived in inopportune situations. He’s tried to show off the arm strength at suboptimal times. These are things, according to Inciarte, that have improved as he’s spent more time in center.
“All that is very valid,” manager Brian Snitker said, acknowledging growth in Acuna’s game. “You have to play the game in front of you and not try to do too much. The biggest thing as an outfielder is when you start trying to throw out the lead runners, all you’re going to do is let runners get in scoring position. You have to keep the game in order to where you’re a pitch away from getting out of the inning. You make plays when you have to.”
Acuna also impressed in right field, where his arm looked like a natural fit. His versatility is another reason he’s considered such an asset. And it’s saving the Braves in what could’ve been disastrous situations in losing Inciarte and Nick Markakis.