Five bold predictions for Braves superstar Ronald Acuña Jr. in 2024

AP file photo by John Bazemore / Atlanta Braves star Ronald Acuña Jr. stole 73 bases and hit 41 home runs during the 2023 season on the way to winning his first NL MVP award.
AP file photo by John Bazemore / Atlanta Braves star Ronald Acuña Jr. stole 73 bases and hit 41 home runs during the 2023 season on the way to winning his first NL MVP award.

The Atlanta Braves will open their 2024 schedule against the host Philadelphia Phillies on Friday, with the first pitch set for 3:05 p.m. on Bally Sports South. The Braves, the six-time reigning National League East champions, will continue the series against their division rivals at Citizens Bank Park with games on Saturday and Sunday.

Here are five bold season predictions for Braves superstar right fielder and reigning NL MVP Ronald Acuña Jr., whose dream for this year is to catch the final out of the World Series at Atlanta's Truist Park.

Dreams become reality

Growing up in La Sabana, Venezuela, Acuña would pray and ask God to make him famous one day. His rise to stardom was made possible by smashing up newspapers and wrapping tape around them to make baseballs he and his friends could play with.

God rewards those who are diligent, and Acuña is as hungry as ever to play a big part on the field in helping the Braves win the World Series. (He was injured when the Braves won their most recent MLB championship in 2021.)

I believe he will get to celebrate on the field with his teammates as World Series MVP this time after the Braves take down the American League's Baltimore Orioles in this year's Fall Classic.

More walks than strikeouts

In an era when MLB pitchers are regularly pumping high-90s heat, hitters are often striking out at extremely high percentages.

NOT ACUÑA.

Last year, on his way to running away with his first NL MVP award at age 25 -- he turned 26 in December -- Acuña was able to cut down his career strikeout percentage by more than half, down to an elite 11.4%.

And if you take his stats from the second half of the 2023 MLB season and his performance during winter league competition in Venezuela, over that stretch he hit .353 with 27 home runs and 47 total extra-base hits while drawing 58 walks and striking out just 54 times in 363 at-bats.

Better than Betts, again

Two of the top five players in the game right now are both leadoff hitters.

The Volunteer State's own Mookie Betts is in for a sensational season hitting atop a murderers' row for the Los Angeles Dodgers that includes two-time American League MVP Shohei Ohtani and Freddie Freeman, who won the 2020 NL MVP while still with the Braves. Just three games into the regular season, Betts has already driven in eight runs and homered twice while walking four times without striking out. This is all while the 31-year-old Nashville native, the 2018 AL MVP with the Boston Red Sox, has made a seamless transition to becoming an everyday shortstop for the first time in his MLB career.

Acuña was a unanimous selection in last year's NL MVP voting as he got all 30 first-place votes, and his 420 points were 150 more than runner-up Betts received. A repeat is on the way as "La Bestia" will flirt with 50 home runs and 60 stolen bases this season after hitting 41 and stealing 73 in 2023, when he became the first 40-70 player in MLB history.

Signs record-breaking contract extension

Similar to how Acuña swipes bases, the Braves have been the lucky recipients of some the biggest steals in all of baseball when it comes to locking up young, talented players with long-term contracts.

At age 21 in April 2019, Acuña signed an eight-year extension worth $100 million. Over halfway through that deal, it is time for the best player in baseball to rightfully get a major pay upgrade as a result of his Hall of Fame-caliber play. After all, ZIPS projects him to have 489 home runs and 479 steals in his big league career by the end of the 2031 season.

Braves general manager Alex Anthopoulos should have all of his Easter eggs in the basket of keeping Acuña a lifelong member of the team that sent Rolando Petit to sign him in July 2014 for a whopping total of $100,000.

Acuña will set a franchise record when he signs a long-term extension worth north of $300 million this season.

Helps set single-season record for wins

Atlanta won 104 games during the 2023 regular season, which was just two shy of tying the franchise record set in 1998.

The offensive firepower made things particularly easy for a pitching staff that only had Spencer Strider, Bryce Elder and Charlie Morton healthy for the long haul.

If Max Fried and Chris Sale can clear 20 starts this season, there is no reason why the Braves can not win up to 110 games and blow past a franchise record with what has all the makings of being the best Braves team ever assembled.

This is the best team in baseball, and it will be shown in vivid colors this season with Acuña leading the way in a lineup that is chock-full of All-Stars.

Contact Patrick MacCoon at pmaccoon@timesfreepress.com.

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