Ronald Acuna reinvigorated the Braves from the leadoff spot last season. On his first day of spring training Saturday, he doubled down on his desire to stay there.
Two weeks ago, Acuna told reporters he hoped to stay atop the lineup. A few hours after arriving four early at ESPN Wide World of Sports, he reiterated his preference to continue building his leadoff resume.
“If it was up to me, personally, I would obviously like to stay in the leadoff spot,” Acuna said through an interpreter. “Because I like being there and I like hitting there. But those decisions are out of my control. The only things I can control is to work hard and give my best.”
Acuna embraces being the table-setter, being the first hitter of a game. It’s a responsibility that sparked his rookie-of-the-year surge, igniting the Braves’ second-half push that won the National League East. The move seemed to unlock Acuna’s oozing potential that was revealed only in flashes earlier in the season.
His production fits the clean-up mold, and when Acuna was initially asked about dropping in the lineup, Nick Markakis hadn’t been re-signed. Markakis handled clean-up duties in 2018.
Manager Brian Snitker is still tinkering with lineup ideas, and it’s not like there’s a rush: The Braves’ first spring training game is a week away. But he’s given thought to plugging Acuna into the 4-hole and having Ender Inciarte return to leadoff duties. Josh Donaldson and Freddie Freeman will fill in at second and third, respectively.
“I’m still toying with it,” Snitker said. “I’m going to wait and see where we’re at in a couple weeks. We don’t have to set a lineup right now. I have ideas, different things. But I don’t think right now, at this poit in spring or even a week from now, we have to have anything set in stone.”
Snitker stressed the lineup needs to be adaptable. His star player, Freeman, agreed. The first baseman likes the idea of starting the game with Acuna, Donaldson and himself, but he also praised Inciarte’s past productivity in the spot.
“We’ll see how this shakes out. Having Ronald at one, Josh and then me, that’s pretty tough to go through in the first inning. But if Ender’s hitting like he was, doing great like he was in the second half of 2017, he’s the perfect leadoff hitter. Our lineup would be deep with Ronald in the four.
“But it’s very hard to take him out of the leadoff spot after what he did last year. It was amazing. But if you can lengthy the lineup any way you can, we’ll see what happens and how it plays out.”
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