Were the Braves smart to hold onto their budding superstar? Or, have they possibly missed an opportunity to turn the organization around quicker than planned with a player like Yelich?
Let’s get the simple stuff out of the way.
Yelich just turned 26 and is under team control through 2021 with one option year on his contract; set to make a little over $7 million a year. He’s been the model of health in his first five seasons with the Marlins, a factor that should have just as much impact as the numbers he puts up.
Acuna just turned 20 himself. There is a high probability that you’ll see him in SunTrust Park sooner rather than later. Obviously he’ll be under team control for a few years making league minimum before he leans on arbitration to get the money he will likely deserve.
Not familiar with Acuna? Press play.
Acuna rocketed through the minors in 2017, jumping all the way from HiA ball to AAA. Show me a player who has done that, and I’ll show you a superstar.
Yelich did something similar in 2013, hopping from Rookie ball to HiA to AA, then a stint in Miami before returning to the minors the following season.
For four games.
Then, the next stud Marlins hitter arrived. He posted a .341 wOBA and had his first of several 4+ WAR seasons.
Yelich has become one of the best contact hitters in baseball. His BABIP averages .356, which is unusually high. Normally when a hitter puts up a number like that, he’s due for regression and/or was incredibly lucky that season.
Not the case with Yelich. His five-season BABIP numbers are as follows: .380/.356/.370/.356/.336
Yelich is also a very disciplined hitter. Here’s a look at his plate discipline versus the league average.
His defense could arguably be better than his offense. In left field, his DRS (or defensive runs saved) is an incredible 32 (league average is zero). While his arm strength isn’t exactly elite, he’s accurate with his throws and covers a lot of ground.
Let’s look at some tools to see if we can find any advantage from either player when comparing skill.
We know little about how Acuna’s intangibles will translate from the minors to the majors. However, he projects out to be a ’60’ across the board, using the 20-80 scale, with his defense being of particular note (’70’ arm rating).
Kindly indulge my assumptions on Acuna, as he’s yet to face big league hitting, and all we have to go on is his scouting reports and performance in the minors.
Acuna has the ability to hit to all areas of the field; at times seemingly with ease. In terms of his hit distribution, his Pull/Opposite field ratio as close to even a split as it gets. Yelich is pretty close to the same ability.
Expect Acuna to hit just as well as Yelich does; maybe not right away but it isn’t beyond the realm of expectation. Both could hit anywhere from .280 to .320 at their peak.
Yelich strikes out on roughly 20% of his at-bats (league average) . With Acuna, you could expect the same results. However, with his power potential (we’ll address that in a minute), you could see a spike in Ks as he grows into his strength. Young players tend to overestimate that ability before it’s really there.
For Yelich, his slugging is a bit better than league average. You don’t think home runs when you think Yelich; at least I don’t. He did, however, break 20 HR in 2016 and amassed 18 long balls last season.
Would a move to SunTrust Park have any impact on his HR total? It wouldn’t appear so.
On the contrary, Acuna is projected to be a power hitter. Its something that will take a few years to fully develop, but with his advanced foot speed coupled with the increased velocity of MLB pitching, it’s the perfect recipe for a 30+ HR hitter.
Both defenders are terrific. Yelich thrives in left field but is capable of playing center. Acuna is projected to play any outfield position but should excel in center. A move to right field is likely as his age starts to show.
Both fielders have excellent first-steps and terrific instincts. The difference here is the fact that Acuna’s arm is going to best Yelich’s. It won’t be a blowout, but runners will be less likely to advance on Acuna; an aspect tips the scales in his favor.
Both guys can run. No question. Acuna might have more potential but Yelich has all the base running prowess of an MLB veteran. Not much else to say here.
So will Acuna turn into a better ballplayer than Yelich? It’s easy to simply say ‘yes’ but the fact Acuna has yet to step into an MLB batters box, its foolish to declare it a certainty.
Remember, we aren’t focused on where both players are now, just where they could end up at similar points of their career.
Using what raw data we have here, analytics would favor Acuna for his intangibles that have a higher ceiling than what Yelich is currently displaying.
That being said, I commend the Braves for balking at the offer from the Marlins. Both players will be superstars (Yelich is on his way, if not already there) but I can see Acuna being a guy who can carry a team on his own.
MY WINNER: Acuna