We’ve seen two of the brightest young offensive stars in baseball emerge in the National League East over the past couple years. The Braves’ Ronald Acuna Jr. and the Nationals’ Juan Soto have been enormously successful since they made their debuts in 2018, and the outfielders have played important roles in helping lead their clubs to prominence. The Braves have taken the division in each of Acuna’s two seasons, while Soto was among the reasons the Nationals won their first-ever World Series last fall. The two look as if they’ll be franchise cornerstones for the long haul, but if you can only have one, which player would you pick?
Going by production, there hasn’t been a huge difference in their careers so far. The 22-year-old Acuna’s a 9.3-fWAR player through his first 1,202 plate appearances and a .285/.365/.532 hitter with 67 home runs, 53 stolen bases and an excellent wRC+ of 133. The righty masher fell just shy of a 40/40 effort in 2019, when he smacked 41 dingers and swiped an NL-high 37 bags. Furthermore, Acuna has fared respectably as a defender thus far – including as the Braves’ primary center fielder last year – with 16 DRS and a minus-0.6 UZR to this point.
By measure of wRC+, Soto has been an even more effective hitter than Acuna. Soto, who only became old enough to legally drink as last year’s World Series was going on, owns a jaw-dropping 143 mark in that category. The lefty swinger’s a .287/.403/.535 batter with 56 homers and 8.5 fWAR through 1,153 PA, though he doesn’t come close to Acuna in terms of stolen bases (17). Acuna’s overall defensive output has also been better, but Soto did make strides in that area last season. After putting up minus-6 DRS and minus-4.2 UZR as a rookie in left field, he improved to zero and minus-0.7 in those categories as a sophomore.
The overall numbers Acuna and Soto have managed at such young ages have been astounding. But you can’t just consider production when comparing the two. One of the key facts about Acuna is that his team has already locked him up for the foreseeable future, as the Braves extended him to an eight-year, $100MM guarantee after his first season. With $17MM club options for 2027 and ’28, the deal could keep Acuna in place for almost the whole decade. That’s a lengthy commitment and a lot of money, but it has nonetheless always come off as a no-brainer move from Atlanta’s perspective.
The Nationals would surely love to sign Soto to a similar pact, but it’s hard to believe they’ll get him on such a team-friendly deal. At the very least, though, they do still have the right to control the Scott Boras client for the next half-decade, including one more pre-arbitration year if a season does take place in 2020.
The bottom line is that you can’t lose with either of these players, no doubt two of the greatest assets in the sport. But you’re only allowed to build around one of them, so take your pick…
(Poll link for app users)