When he returned final season from the torn ACL that value him greater than 90 major-league video games, Ronald Acuña Jr. regarded merely competent, nowhere close to the famous person he had been for the primary 4 years of his profession.
It has solely been one week, however Acuña appears like a star once more. He has been a power atop the Atlanta Braves’ lineup throughout their 6-1 begin to 2023. He has put the ball in play and hit for energy. He has waited out walks. He has stolen bases. He has sprinted across the bases after teammates’ hits. He has performed an excellent proper subject, with two assists already. He’s again, evidently, to the participant he as soon as was, the participant who was on tempo for a 40-30 season earlier than he suffered the knee harm.
Acuña is barely 25. It’s not shocking that he has returned to type. However his 2022 return represented sufficient regression that it spawned some concern throughout the trade. He didn’t excel at something final 12 months. His protection rated beneath alternative. He led the Nationwide League in events caught stealing. He made contact at about the identical fee he had prior to now, nevertheless it was constantly much less highly effective contact. In keeping with FanGraphs.com, his ground-ball and infield-fly charges each shot up over 50%.
There was sufficient contact, and sufficient retained endurance, energy, and velocity, that Acuña remained an above-average participant general in 2022. However his downturn was not what the Braves envisioned from their $100-million participant, and it compelled them to chase down the Mets late within the season to make sure a Nationwide League East title.
The Braves have fortified their offense over the previous two years, a lot in order that many within the sport believed they may contend in 2023 with out an elite Acuña. Whereas he was injured, third baseman Austin Riley, now 26, emerged as one other veritable famous person, and Atlanta shortly reacted by extending him on a contract value greater than twice as a lot as Acuña’s. Middle fielder Michael Harris II, too, debuted in that point, and earned himself an extension that may about match Acuña’s if his crew choices are exercised. First baseman Matt Olson and catcher Sean Murphy have additionally arrived from Oakland within the 21 months since Acuña tore his knee. Help was round.
However this 12 months’s Grapefruit League play hinted that Acuña had rediscovered the vibrancy his sport had final 12 months lacked, and the World Baseball Classic supplied additional affirmation. Acuña began telling reporters final month, too, that he felt “100%” higher than he had a 12 months in the past. Currently, he has stated that the identical swings that final 12 months produced outs at the moment are producing extra-base hits. Now, the Braves have all of the aforementioned contributors and one of many sport’s most proficient gamers. Their lineup-opening trio of Acuña, Olson and Riley rivals any throughout baseball.
It begins with Acuña. Braves supervisor Brian Snitker advised reporters this week that the precise fielder is in a “good place.”
“This child simply loves having his legs again underneath him, I assure you,” Snitker stated. “Enjoying the sport the best way he needs to play it. I’m joyful for him, that he can use all of his instruments and his abilities. You understand, play the sport the best way he’s accustomed to enjoying it, which is full bore.”
It’s pure for gamers recovering from important accidents to return, at first, as rather less than themselves. Maybe Acuña, although, is uniquely unsuited to enjoying with lower than 100% of his inherent athleticism. Teammates describe his hitting strategy as freer than most, with extra pure motion than most of them can maintain. He seems to be again to that type, throughout his sport. If this continues, the Braves could by no means relinquish the result in which they’ve already jumped within the NL East.
The Mets have the top-end rotation expertise and offensive depth. The Phillies have final 12 months’s momentum and a few stars. However neither of these groups might be able to rival the Braves’ mix of top-end expertise and depth. They have been adequate to contend final 12 months, sans Acuña at his peak. Now, it appears like they’ve him once more.
Pedro Moura is the nationwide baseball author for FOX Sports activities. He beforehand lined the Dodgers for The Athletic, the Angels and Dodgers for the Orange County Register and L.A. Instances, and his alma mater, USC, for ESPN Los Angeles. He’s the creator of “The best way to Beat a Damaged Sport.” Observe him on Twitter at @pedromoura.
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