Ronald Acuna hammered his 20th homer of the season Wednesday, becoming the 14th player in MLB history to achieve such before turning 21. He wasted no time planting No. 21 in the stands Thursday against his favorite sacrificial lamb, the Miami Marlins.
Since the second half began, Acuna has made routine dents in the record books. His latest shot made a literal mark, damaging a section of the Marlins’ outfield with a 432-foot, 105 mph rocket.
The Braves’ No. 1 prospect is living up to his hype. He’s made a second-half leap into borderline superstardom already.
Consider the 13 other names Acuna joined in the 20-before-21 club: Frank Robinson, Mel Ott, Al Kaline, Eddie Mathews, Orland Cepeda, Ted Williams, Willie Mays, Ken Griffey Jr., Mickey Mantle, Alex Rodriguez, Tony Conigliaro, Giancarlo Stanton, Bryce Harper.
The first nine are Hall of Famers. Stanton and Harper likely will be, and Rodriguez’s candidacy, because of performance enhancers, will be debated over years.
“(It says) how special he is,” manager Brian Snitker said. “We saw it coming. You never know what a guy’s going to do, what they’re capable of. … He’s one of those kids that nothing surprises you.”
Acuna’s been venomous at the leadoff spot. Wednesday provided his sixth leadoff homer, one short of Marquis Grissom’s franchise record set in 1996. Note that Acuna just moved atop the batting order in the second half.
He’s made history with his best friend, Ozzie Albies, becoming the first pair of teammates under 22 years old to reach 20 homers in a season. Acuna’s the second Braves rookie to fire off 20 homers and swipe 10 bases.
“He’s having really good at-bats, making good contact,” Snitker said after Thursday’s 5-0 win over the Marlins. “He’s taking some borderline pitches, tough pitches, keeping himself in good counts. He’s swinging the bat really well.”
A new “Acuna-ism” is born with every other swing, it seems. The Braves’ National-League-best 605 runs are a collaborative effort, but Acuna has lifted them to another tier since he took off.
His patience has made strides of late. Acuna is an aggressive hitter. He won’t hesitate to attack the first pitch. But as he’s learned to pick his battles, he’s grown even more potent, according to his manager.
“You see them pitching to him, approaching him differently,” Snitker said. “I sit up there and watch him have really good takes on pitches. He’s taking a lot of pitches people are swinging at. He’s going to have moments. The best hitters in baseball have them. But he’s doing a really good job not expanding the zone and not missing his pitch when he gets it. … He’s maturing as a hitter, I think. Really, really quick.”
Acuna and Nationals star Juan Soto are neck-and-neck in the Rookie of the Year race. Soto, 19, has been as phenomenal as Acuna, though the latter’s surge might put him ahead.
Soto is slashing .291/.413/.519 with 15 homers and 45 RBIs in 82 games. Acuna, in seven fewer games, owns a .286/.354/.566 line with 20 homers and 44 RBIs. Acuna has the upper-hand defensively and in the standings.
“He’s an incredible player, incredible prospect,” Acuna said through team interpreter Franco Garcia. “It’s great to watch him.”
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