The 2018 Braves not only took home accolades for their accomplishments as a team, but Brian Snitker (Manager of the Year), Ronald Acuña (Rookie of the Year) along with Freddie Freeman, Ender Inciarte and Nick Markakis (Gold Glove) were all recognized for individual accomplishments as well. Oh yeah, Nick Markakis also took home his first career Silver Slugger Award, to go along with his inaugural All-Star nod as well. With that, comes a certain level of raised expectations, especially when it comes to the 21 year old left fielder.
If there’s one guy on the coaching staff that understands that, it’s bench coach Walt Weiss. The 1988 Rookie of the Year helped lead the Oakland A’s to their first AL Pennant in 14 years, and was always known for his masterful defense at shortstop. He also realizes the pressure that comes along with taking home such a high honor. “The second year is a challenge, that’s why there’s a name for it” Weiss told us on Wednesday’s Clubhouse Report. While he didn’t specifically use the term “sophomore slump”, he eluded to the fact that even more is expected in year two. “As a rookie, everything you do positive is glorified. And now, all of a sudden, that second year, you’re expected to do that. That changes a lot of things and I think that’s why some guys struggle” Weiss added.
That said, Weiss isn’t concerned about Acuña taking a step back in 2019. “His personality and the way he plays the game, I don’t think those circumstances matter to him” he said. One thing was clear in watching Acuña burst onto the scene in 2018…there was no stage to big or moment too meaningful that he couldn’t handle. Now the big question becomes, where does Acuña fit into the 2019 Braves lineup. While we still have six weeks until Opening Day, I’m going to go ahead and assume we see him dropped down in the order to the cleanup spot, to not only help protect Freddie Freeman, but add some much needed pop to the heart of the order. Ender Inciarte, who has traditionally been a slow starter, will likely get a chance at leadoff which would move Ozzie Albies possibly to fifth, which makes it a much deeper, and powerful lineup than we saw in 2018. Can Acuña duplicate his incredible rookie campaign? Does he take another step forward? There will be a lot expected of him from fans in the upcoming season, but I for one, am not worried about a regression in his second go-round.
Kevin McAlpin covers the Braves for @680TheFan and the @BravesRadioNet.