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By Sarah Langs, MLB.com
Special to Yahoo Sports
There’s no doubt about it at this point: Ronald Acuña Jr. is a superstar, in every sense of the word.
Does that make him worthy of your No. 1 overall pick in fantasy? Perhaps, and perhaps not. Regardless, he’s a strong consideration, along with reigning AL MVP Mike Trout and 2018 NL MVP Christian Yelich.
Here are the cases for and against taking the young star first overall.
Why you should take Acuña with the first pick
Acuña offers something that’s become somewhat of a novelty in today’s game: an elite power-speed combo. He fell three stolen bases shy of a 40-40 season in 2019 -- and that’s a feat that’s been accomplished just four times in Major League history. It’s pretty safe to say there isn’t another player currently in the game like Acuña who has as good of a chance of netting you 40-plus homers and 40-plus stolen bases.
With stolen bases increasingly becoming tougher to come by, the chance to get both power and speed addressed with this one player is particularly intriguing -- and efficient.
In fact, talk around Braves camp in the early going has been that Acuña has set his sights beyond 40-40, on 50-50 -- which has never been done. But that doesn’t mean that we’d be settling for seeing him go 40-40.
Acuña’s career is still young, but already we’ve seen him surpass expectations. He won the 2018 NL Rookie of the Year Award and got MVP votes as a 20-year-old, then followed it up with an All-Star, Silver Slugger and top-five MVP vote-getting season in ‘19.
His sample size is small, but there’s no reason to believe he’d be slowing down. If anything, he’ll continue to build on what he’s started.
Here are his averages in the five traditional fantasy categories, over the two seasons of his career:
Batting Average: .285
Runs Scored: 102
Home Runs: 34
Runs Batted In: 82
Stolen Bases: 26
That certainly sounds like production that would aid your team. If that isn’t enough, consider this: Acuña has a 133 wRC+ in his career. That ranks 11th all-time through a player’s age-21 season, among players to accumulate 1,000 PA before age-22. Sure, wRC+ isn’t a fantasy stat, but it tells you just how special his offensive output has been so far, with names like Trout, Jimmie Foxx, Ted Williams, Rogers Hornsby and just a few others making up the 10 ahead of him on the list.
And that’s yet another reminder of how much potential is still yet to be seen with Acuña, who is still just 22 years old. There’s certainly plenty to like about what’s to come for him.
Why you should avoid Acuña with the first pick
Of course, it’s always important to throw caution to the wind, too. Though 40-40, and the mythical 50-50, are both in sight, that doesn’t mean it’ll happen. Steamer projections put Acuña in the 20s, not 40s, with stolen bases, at 29. Projections are simply a forecast, but it’s worth considering that if Acuña continues to hit for power, the stolen bases may disappear -- either due to lack of opportunities or simply to place more focus on the power part of his game, not unlike the dropoff in SBs we have seen from Trout over his career.
In the two seasons he’s played, Acuña’s higher batting average and slugging percentage both came in that first year when he hit .293 and slugged .552. Last year, it was .280 and .518, respectively. Steamer has his 2020 stats more closely following from what he did in ‘19, with a .282 average and .527 slugging percentage, so that’s worth keeping in mind as well.
Acuña dealt with neck stiffness in ‘19, but did not land on the injured list. He’s only had one such stint: in ‘18, when he missed a month with a mild ACL sprain and contusion in his left knee suffered while running to first base. He’s predominantly stayed healthy throughout his career. However, with a player who plays as all-out as Acuña does, injuries will always be a back-of-the-mind concern, at the very least. Especially for a player making acrobatic outfield catches and diving into second base at will.
One other element to consider for fantasy purposes is Acuña’s spot in the lineup. He’s thrived as a leadoff hitter and given his success and the team’s as a result, that seems unlikely to change anytime soon. That means he’ll be among the leaders in plate appearances, but it also means that his RBI totals could suffer. Of course, he had 101 RBIs in 2019, which definitely isn’t shabby, and he’s projected for another 100-plus in ‘20, but it’s something to keep in mind.
The bottom line
The shame with taking Acuña with the first pick in a traditional league is that you can’t keep him there for years to come. But at this point, it seems like pretty much any season from him over the next few years will do the trick and help set you up for a strong fantasy season.
There are always downsides to consider, but the upside is very much there. If he sticks with the power-speed profile he’s had thus far, Acuña gives you the chance to dominate in both of those categories in a way that’s unique in this day and age. He’s young, and his team is expected to compete in 2020, which means every plate appearance and trip on the basepaths will matter. Though you never know, it feels like you can’t go wrong here.