Watch out Rickey, here comes Acuna

Associated PressAtlanta Braves right fielder Ronald Acuna Jr. (13) celebrates after scoring a home run during a baseball game against the Miami Marlins April 15 in Atlanta.

One of baseball's best leadoff hitters could soon challenge a Hall of Famer for title of greatest leadoff hitter ever... if he hasn't done so already. Yes, Ronald Acuna Jr. may be just 23-years-old, but he has already established himself as a legendary leadoff threat.

Acuna Jr. has belted 88 home runs and swiped 64 stolen bases in just 329 career games. He's already posted a 30-30 (30 homers and 30 steals) season in 2019 and is a serious threat to record a 40-40 season. Heck, it would not surprise me to see Acuna Jr. be the first big leaguer to record a 50-50 season.

He reminds me so much of former Oakland A's superstar Rickey Henderson. Henderson had tremendous power and sizzling speed on the bases as part of the powerhouse 80s A's teams that also featured bash brothers Mark McGwire and Jose Canseco. Henderson was the sparkplug that ignited those Oakland teams.

Henderson did not have as much power as Acuna Jr. but still finished his Hall of Fame career with 297 homers, a career .279 batting average and 1,406 stolen bases.

In case you Braves fans have not noticed, Acuna Jr. is the Braves' sparkplug so far this season. In fact, he might be the whole engine. A team that returned virtually all of last year's team that wracked up 348 runs and 103 homers, minus outfielder Adam Duvall, has sputtered out of the gate so far in only 16 games so far. 

Following Sunday night's game against the Chicago Cubs in which the Braves knocked off the Cubs 13-4, the Braves are 7-9 with notable stars struggling early. Reigning Most Valuable Player Freddie Freeman is batting just .232, while outfielder Marcell Ozuna is at .230. If not for Acuna Jr., who knows how bad the Braves' record would be.

Before leaving Sunday's game because of an abdominal strain, Acuna Jr. was batting a robust .419 with seven homers and 16 RBIs and 26 hits.

His passion and excitement for the game is reminiscent of Henderson. For the younger crowd, Henderson played the game with flare and arrogance. Who can forget when Henderson broke the stolen base record in 1991 and his response to the world was, “Today, I am the greatest of all time.”

Acuna Jr.'s arrogance is seen in his ability to test infielder throws to the plate on simple ground balls. He also admires his home runs and does so with regularity.

Acuna Jr. is well on his way to duplicating, or perhaps, surpassing Henderson as the game's greatest leadoff batter. He has the talent and charisma to do so. He just needs the time.

Clint Thompson is a special contributor to the Valdosta Daily Times.

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