One would think the Braves are tired of talking about rookie sensation Ronald Acuna, yet players and coaches continue heaping praise on the outfielder on cue.
Acuna has three more games to make his final case for rookie of the year. The 20-year-old has hit .290 with 26 homers and 61 RBIs in 108 games. But it’s his second-half work that has won over so many.
Since moving to leadoff after the All-Star break, Acuna has hit .319 with 19 homers, 42 RBIs and 53 runs scored in 65 games. He’s been the Braves’ best player over that span, already vaulting himself into the upper echelon of stars.
“We wouldn’t be where we are without him,” outfielder Nick Markakis said. “It’d have been nice to get him up earlier in the season, but we know how those things (business) work. He’s been big, especially since moving to the top of the lineup. The leadoff spot is one of the most important spots of the lineup, setting the table for the other guys.
“He’s been tremendous. Early on in the season, he was a little bit of a free swinger, chasing a lot of pitches, but recently he’s been outstanding. One of the best in baseball. To do it at the top of the lineup has been huge for us.”
Markakis has provided a steady, reliable presence for Acuna. The Braves wanted the right veterans in the clubhouse knowing they’d be implementing so many prospects.
The 34-year-old rarely minces words. When asked how Acuna compares with Manny Machado, whom Markakis saw debut with Baltimore in 2012, he offered an honest assessment. Machado is considered one of the premier talents in the sport and is expected to receive rich compensation on the free-agent market this winter.
“Manny had a more polished approach to his game when he came up,” Markakis said. “But I think Acuna has more raw talent. He’s got to have the quickest hands I’ve ever played with. He’s got raw talent, and hopefully he can translate that and get better. But as far as Manny, they’re two different types of players. Two of the best players in the game.”
The Braves have a Machado-esque talent in Acuna. Alongside first baseman Freddie Freeman, they have two players who could be the five best players in the game, or best players on the field, at any time.
It’s natural but borderline unfair to compare Acuna with Mike Trout. The Angels’ center fielder defines five-tool, generational ability. He’s the unquestioned best player in the game on track for arguably the best career of all-time.
The fact that Acuna, at the ripe age of 20, is even mentioned in the same stratosphere as Trout on the surface seems ludicrous. But his trajectory could make him a worthy of such company.
“Acuna could be at that level,” Markakis said. “He’s not too far away. He’s got some of the same skill sets as Trout, the speed, the power. He’s got defense. Time will tell. Let it play out, and you’ll eventually find out for yourselves.
“He’s going to get better. Braves fans and everybody should be pretty excited. He’s one of the more talented players I’ve ever played with, and he’s fun to watch on a daily basis.”