Dan's Dugout: NL Rookie Race Takes On Latino Tinge • Latino Sports


Dan’s Dugout: NL Rookie Race Takes On Latino Tinge


As Mets broadcaster Howie Rose would say, “Put it in the books.”

Despite all the uncertainty concerning baseball title chases and individual awards, one thing is a lock: an exceptional young Latino will be National League Rookie of the Year for 2018.

At the tender age of 20, Ronald Acuna, Jr. is showing enormous power.

The pre-season favorite, Ronald Acuna, Jr. of the Atlanta Braves, missed a month after injuring his knee in Boston on Memorial Day weekend but came back strong after taking over his team’s leadoff spot after the All-Star break.

Another outfielder, Juan Soto, also began in the minors before the Washington Nationals made the 19-year-old the youngest player in the major leagues.

And then there’s Dereck Rodriguez, still another late arrival, whose pitching for the San Francisco Giants could best be explained by his Cooperstown pedigree – he’s the son of Hall of Famer Ivan (Pudge) Rodriguez.

One of those three newcomers will waltz home with this year’s trophy, though the voting could be close.

If the Braves continue their surpringly succesful assault on Washington’s domination of the National League East, Acuna may be the favorite.

Slowed just slightly when hit in the elbow by a Jose Urena fastball Wednesday, he had connected for eight home runs in eight games, homered five games in a row, and even hit leadoff home runs in three consecutive contests. Plus he can run, throw, field, and hit for average.

Ronald Acuna has already been compared to Hank Aaron

The Minor League Player of the Year and Arizona Fall League MVP last year, Acuba has already posted better numbers than Hank Aaron did as a rookie. Comparisons are inevitable since both are righthanded batters who began their careers as leftfielders for the Braves. They even have the same build: 6-feet, 180 pounds.

Entering play this weekend, Soto is sailing along at a .301 clip and producing power too – 15 home runs in 75 games – but Acuna is coming on fast.

A far better defensive player than Soto, Acuna also shows signs of being a better and more prolific base-stealer. His 44-steal performance across three minor leagues in 2017, when he was Minor League Player of the Year for both Baseball America and USA TODAY, was no aberration.

Acuna really started rolling after Atlanta manager Brian Snitker, searching frantically for a reliable leadoff hitter after Ender Inciarte’s slow start, moved him to the top of the lineup, leaving Ozzie Albies right behind him in the No. 2 spot.

Albies, an All-Star in his first full season this year, is just 21 but has taken the 20-year-old Acuna under his wing. The kid from Curacao and the kid from Venezuela speak the same language, love playing baseball, and obviously have a close personal and professional relationship. Their friendly on-the-field competition makes both players play better.

Soto, for his part, hasn’t stopped hitting since the Nationals brought him to the majors on May 20. The Dominican dynamo has great plate discipline for anyone, let alone a 19-year-old, and walks almost as often as he fans. But he can’t carry Acuna’s glove in left field. In fact, Acuna is a serious candidate for a Gold Glove despite his age and inexperience. Maybe that’s because he played center in the minors.

Like Bryce Harper, Juan Soto is an outfielder who bats lefthanded

Had he not missed a month after twisting his knee in Boston Memorial Day weekend, Acuna would probably have far better numbers. He not only has prodigious power but his batting average has taken off like a rocket since he took over the top of the Atlanta lineup.

And let’s not forget Rodriguez, who also arrived to the majors after the 2018 season opened. Born in the United States, the 26-year-old San Francisco starter has Puerto Rican roots. He keeps walks and home runs to a minimum, yielding just 23 runs in his first 80 innings pitched. Having a Hall of Fame catcher as a father obviously helped, though the younger Rodriguez came to the Giants as a minor-league free agent.

As Joaquin Andujar used to say in his one-word description of baseball: “Youneverknow.”

About Dan Schlossberg

Former AP sportswriter Dan Schlossberg of Fair Lawn, NJ has produced 35 baseball books, including autobiographies of Ron Blomberg, Al Clark, and Milo Hamilton. Also a broadcaster, he is the host and executive producer of Braves Banter and Travel Itch Radio and a contributor to Sirius XM.

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