Atlanta Braves MVP Candidate Ronald Acuña Jr. is a Superstar, Leader, and Role Model

Atlanta Braves Superstar right fielder Ronald Acuña’s record-setting season makes him an NL MVP front-runner and brought out the curmudgeon in the Phillies manager. His path to this amazing year set an example another struggling superstar talent is trying to emulate.

Atlanta Braves right fielder Ronald Acuna Jr. is on pace to win  NL MVP, but he's also become a role model for young players everywhere.
Atlanta Braves right fielder Ronald Acuna Jr. is on pace to win NL MVP, but he's also become a role model for young players everywhere. / Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports
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Atlanta Braves fans know the story, but I need to add some of it for context. In 2018, Ronald Acuña Jr. and Juan Soto were the talk of baseball. In 2019, Fernando Tatis Jr. joined the who-do-you-want-to-start-a-franchise-with conversation with a scorching April until injury sidelined him for six weeks. Sadly, the phrase injury sidelined him became a theme for Tatis’ career since then.

Parallels and Responses

Acuña finished fifth in NL 2019 MVP voting and followed that with a 12th-place MVP finish in 2020. He was on his way to another MVP when he blew out his ACL in 2021. 

He returned in 2022 but his knee wasn’t 100%. He struggled at the plate, on the bases, and on defense but played every day the knee allowed him to, without complaining or excuses. He took full responsibility for his play and earned the respect of his teammates by doing so. This season, he's reached heights never before achieved in Major League baseball.

Tatis Jr. suffered from hamstring and lower back issues in 2019, limiting him to 130 games. In 2021Tatis Jr.:

  • Went on the IL in April with a left shoulder subluxation,
  • Spent four days on the COVID-19 IL in May,
  • Reinjured his shoulder in June and essentially missed the remainder of the season.

Tatis Jr. started 2022 on the IL with a wrist fracture suffered in the offseason and missed the rest of the season after MLB suspended him for 80 games after he tested positive for PEDS. During that suspension, he had surgery on his shoulder, and later, his wrist.

Unlike Acuña, when Tatis Jr. returned this season. he not only had to show that he could stay on the field, he also had to regain the trust of his teammates.

Watch and Learn

Acuña’s knee wasn’t 100% until November 2022. When it was, he packed his bags and made a trip few fans knew about until recently. As Dennis Lin wrote for The Athletic, Acuña says that trip was the springboard to his success.

"…(Acuña) spent two weeks in the Dominican Republic training with the father of a friend. From Nov. 10 until around Thanksgiving, ESPN reported, Acuña hit almost daily under the supervision of Fernando Tatis Sr. … He later credited a mechanical tweak recommended by Tatis Sr. for putting him on track to win what would be his third Silver Slugger Award…"

Dennis Lin in The Athletic. 9/14/2023

Although his shoulder hadn't fully healed, Tatis Jr. rehabbed alongside Acuña last winter. He watched how hard he worked and saw his openness to integrating the lessons from Tatis Sr. 

Before the season began, Tatis Jr. apologized to his team and promised he’d do better. Throughout the season, he watched Acuña apply the lessons learned and recognized that the hard work done in the offseason led to breaking records and becoming a favorite in the NL MVP race. 

Lin asked Tatis Jr. if Acuña’s season ”represents a template” he’ll follow, Tatis Jr. said, “No doubt.” And he’s probably not the only one.