No list of the top young hitters in the game is complete without Ronald Acuña Jr.’s name right near the top. Acuña has only been in the Majors a few seasons but has already established himself as one of the most versatile and entertaining players in the league. His unique blend of power and speed has helped him set the new standard for leadoff production, and he should continue to be a star in the league for a long time to come due to his impressive dual-threat potential.
Acuña is always must-watch content, and he’s the next athlete to be featured in DraftKings’ collaboration with Metabilia to put out Membership NFTs for the game’s brightest rising stars. Following the release focused on Vladimir Guerrero Jr. last week, Acuña is the next featured athlete. These Metabilia Membership NFTs are athlete-specific passes that enable owners to continue receiving event-based NFTs all season long. These additional airdropped NFTs are free and creatively capture milestones from the past and present of the player’s career journey. The Membership passes & event-based NFTs consist of three unique Rarities - in order of scarcity: Black, Platinum and Green. You can join this elite and exclusive cohort to follow along with Ronald Acuña Jr.’s career with unique event-based NFTs as the season progresses.
To celebrate the launch of these exciting memberships, let’s take a look at Acuña’s career journey so far. He was born in La Guaira, Venezuela on December 18, 1997, and signed as an international free agent with the Braves in 2014 at the age of 16. In his first two seasons he had limited success in the lowest levels of the minors, putting up good stolen base numbers but limited power and a low batting average, partly due to injury. It was the offseason after the 2016 season that he began his breakout in one of the most unexpected places–Australia. At just 18 years old, he starred for the Melbourne Aces, bringing plenty of energy along with his infectious smile and apparent love of the game. He only played 20 games but went 27-for-72 (.375) with eight extra-base hits, including two home runs and 13 stolen bases. He also showed off his improving defense and strong arm in the outfield and even stole home for a walk-off win in one game.
He returned from that success and set the minors on fire in 2017, quickly rising through Single-A and Double-A and playing the entirety of the All-Star Futures Game that July. After that appearance, he finished the year in Triple-A with the Gwinnett Braves (now the Stripers). He continued to produce both with his speed and his power across all levels of the system and finished with 21 home runs and 44 stolen bases in 139 games. He had another big offseason as a star in the Arizona Fall League and was ready for his MLB debut in 2018 at the age of only 21.
Coming into the 2018 season, Acuña was ranked as the No. 1 prospect in all of baseball by Baseball America while MLB Pipeline had him second behind only Shohei Ohtani. On April 25, he became the youngest player in the Majors when he made his debut and made an immediate impact, getting a hit and scoring the game-tying run in his first game, while connecting for his first MLB home run in just his second game. However, he was forced to the injured list by back and knee injuries just before the All-Star break. When he returned from injury, he started working on adjusting his stance and swing mechanics to stay more balanced and fluid with the help of Braves hitting coach and former-Major Leaguer Kevin Seitzer. Seitzer had Acuña move his hands back and away from his body at the beginning of his swing, allowing the lightning-quick slugger to attack the ball from a more vertical starting position and improving his launch angle.
The adjustments paid immediate dividends and Acuña locked in as one of the best leadoff hitters in the league over the second half of the 2018 season. He hit .322 after the All-Star break after hitting .249 to that point. His ISO jumped from .189 to .303 and his wOBA from .319 to .429. Nineteen of his 26 home runs came after the All-Star break, and he rode that momentum to claim the National League Rookie of the Year. Among his many accolades from that season, he became just the fourth player in Major League history to homer in both games of a doubleheader, the youngest player to homer in five straight games and the fourth player in MLB history to record a season with 25 homers and 15 stolen bases in a season while being 20 or younger. He also set the team record for most leadoff home runs in a season and became the youngest player in Major League history to hit a postseason grand slam when he connected against Walker Buehler in the NLDS.
The Braves went on to lose that series to the Dodgers, but that offseason they were ready to commit to several of their rising stars as building blocks of the organization moving forward. They signed Acuña to an eight-year deal worth a whopping $100 million. The historic deal was the largest for any player with less than one year of major league service and made him the youngest player in baseball history to sign a deal worth at least $100 million.
In 2019, he delivered on that contract, playing 156 games and totaling 41 home runs and 37 stolen bases. He became the youngest player to ever post at least 40 homers and 30 steals in a season and the second-youngest ever to join the 30-30 club behind only Mike Trout. Acuña also was voted to his first All-Star game and participated in the Home Run Derby.
In the abbreviated 2020 season, he led the Braves to their third straight NL East title and crushed 14 home runs, leading the National League in at-bats per home run and hitting the longest home run of the season in the Majors at 495 feet.
He started on fire in 2021, earning National League Player of the Month in April, but tore his ACL in mid-July while chasing a fly ball and had to be carted off the field. He was elected to the All-Star game again but was unable to play due to the injury. Even though he was unable to return, he finished with 24 home runs and 17 stolen bases in 82 games, and the Braves went on without him to win the World Series.
Acuña is still working his way back to 100% after that torn right ACL, but he’s already showing signs of returning to his former brilliance. He is back to smashing home runs and stealing bases less than a year after his injury, and he should be back to his status as one of the best hitters in the game very soon. Acuña’s first two home runs of the season came against the Brewers and highlight just how exciting a player he can be. In his first one, he fell over after launching the ball 450 feet, and he borrowed LeBron James’ signature celebration after his second home run. Don’t worry—LeBron said he approved on Twitter.
His elite athleticism makes him so much fun to watch, and he always seems to be having a great time while he’s doing it. The joy and excitement he shows along with his elite power and speed make him truly one of the most exciting players in the Majors. Make sure to take advantage of this partnership with Metabilia in the DraftKings Marketplace to enjoy what should be an exciting season for Acuña in an exclusive and unique way.