Image credit: Ronald Acuna Jr. (Photo by Tom DiPace)
A captivating National League Rookie of the Year race has a winner — Atlanta Braves outfielder Ronald Acuña Jr.
Picking between the three finalists could not have been easy. The race featured a pair of under-21 outfielders destined for stardom and a blossoming frontline starter who all turned in phenomenal years. And while at one point, the award appeared to be Soto’s to lose, the race tightened considerably over the second half of the season as both Acuna and Buehler keyed playoff runs for their respective teams.
Acuna, 20, was Baseball America’s No. 1 prospect after the 2017 season and lived up to the hype this year. He amassed 4.1 bWAR, hitting .293/.366/.552 with 26 homers and 16 steals despite missing nearly a month with an ACL sprain. The Braves outfielder was especially effective after the All-Star break, hitting 19 of his 26 homers while posting a 1.028 OPS in 68 games.
Baseball America’s Kyle Glaser profiled the rise of Acuna alongside a wave of other talented youngsters in Atlanta back in June. Executive editor J.J. Cooper had a vote this year, and his ballot looked like this:
All Soto did, meanwhile, was turn in one of the best seasons by a teenager of all-time.
Even the Nats would be hard-pressed to admit they expected this kind of season from Soto, the No. 56 prospect in baseball after 2017 who opened the year in the Class-A Sally League. But Soto mashed upon arrival in the bigs, posting a .292/.406/.517 line along with 22 homers in 494 plate appearances. He showed a remarkable eye for a teenager, walking 79 times while striking out just 99 times.
Soto owns the best marks by a teenager ever in walks, on-base-percentage. His excellence stacked up against the best hitters in baseball regardless of age, too. Of all hitters with 450 plate appearances or more, Soto ranked fourth in OBP (.406), ninth in OPS (.517) 10th in wRC+ (146).
Buehler, 24, joined the Dodgers’ rotation in late April and was arguably their best pitcher by season’s end, starting Game 163 against the Colorado Rockies and even Game 7 of the NLCS. Buehler relentlessly attacked hitters with a fastball in the upper 90s and both a plus slider and curveball, finishing the year with a 2.62 ERA in 24 games (23 starts).
He struck out 151 batters in 137 ? innings while walking just 37. He was lights out over the final two months of the season, posting a 1.58 ERA, holding opponents to a .154 average and helping keep LA afloat in the NL West.
All three players made Baseball America’s 2018 All-Rookie Team.
Acuna, who is Japan playing for the MLB all-stars, was unavailable for comment Monday night.