Fantasy Baseball: Why Ronald Acuna Will Be An Immediate Fantasy Superstar
Acuna was one of the most dynamic hitters in any Major League camp during the month of March, hitting .432 with a .519 on-base percentage and .727 slugging percentage, but by sending him to the minors for a few weeks the team could delay Acuna's eventual free agency by another year.
That's precisely what the Braves did, and they were criticized by many for the move. After all, Acuna smoked four homers this spring, stole four bases and had an OPS of 1.247, showing that he was ready for the Majors right then and there. But under the rules of the current collective bargaining agreement, what Atlanta did made sense. The fact that the team has overachieved so far without him, with a 12-10 record and ranked third in the NL East, made the decision look all the wiser.
But now, word has it that Acuna is finally getting the call after a longer-than-expected stay in Triple-A. And for fantasy owners who drafted him with the hopes of getting five months' of solid production from the rookie, their wait is finally over.
Throughout his minor league career, there has been nothing the 20-year-old couldn't do. Last year alone, Acuna tore through three levels of play and got better at each ascending level of the Atlanta farm system.
Acuna totaled 21 dingers and 34 stolen bases across three levels of play, and watched his batting average, on-base percentage and slugging percentage improve at each spot. And the power is real.
#Phillies @ #Braves
The Braves' broadcast shows Ronald Acuna homering in a minor league game (00:22)
MLB Gameday: https://t.co/mIeTmB7EHr pic.twitter.com/KAfb1GrTba
— Ballpark Videos (@BallparkVids) April 18, 2018
As impressive as his resume is, what makes Acuna stand out even more is that he's done all this by the age of 20.
Slow Start, Fast Finish
Acuna's service time manipulation could have ended a couple weeks ago, but he was not performing well in Triple-A, so the Braves decided to keep him down for a while longer. It's likely Acuna was negatively effected by being sent down after a ridiculous spring, but whatever the reason, he's turned his early-season struggles around.
First 9 games: .139 (5-for-36), 1 2B, 14 K, 5 BB, 34.1 K rate
Past 5 games .333 (8-for-24) 1 HR, 6 K, 2 BB, 23.1 K rate
— Mark Bowman (@mlbbowman) April 23, 2018
Earlier this week, Acuna swiped three bags in one game and scored the only run in a 1-0 win. There is a little swing-and-miss in Acuna's bat, but his strikeout dropped while his home run rate climbed at each step of the way last season.
In 73 plate appearances this year, his walk rate has jumped to 11.0%, however, his strikeout rate also increased to 27.4%. Of course, we are dealing with a very small sample size here so take that with a grain of salt.
Odd Man Out
Acuna is expected to be an everyday starter with the Braves, so that means one of the team's current crop of outfielders is on the way out.
Ender Inciarte is a Gold Glove-caliber center fielder who provides a high batting average and on-base skills, so he's not going anywhere, and Nick Markakis' .310/.402/.471 slash line means his spot in right field in secure.
That means Preston Tucker is likely to be chopped from the starting lineup. After starting the season hot (.435/.462/.783 in his first seven games), Tucker's cooled considerably (.166 batting average over his last 14 games) and will likely become a nice bench piece for Atlanta.
Fantasy owners who were riding Tucker's early-season surge should feel free to drop him like a hot potato at this point.
Our projections show Acuna piling up 414 plate appearances over the remaining months of the season, totaling 14 homers, 20 doubles, 3 triples and 15 stolen bases with a .268 batting average and an OPS of .772.
Those are certainly safe numbers and would make him a definite starter in all fantasy formats. Acuna is especially valuable in dynasty leagues and should be untouchable for all owners. And if he does a bit better than these projections, the possibility exists for a 20-20 season, which should tell you just how big of a fantasy stud he'll be.