Sports Spectrum Draft Special

Braves rookie of the year candidate Ronald Acuna Jr. puts his faith first

From starting to play baseball at age 3, to being the youngest player in the major leagues, Ronald Acuna Jr. has never lost the faith.

Acuna burst onto the Major League Baseball scene earlier this year after rocketing through the Braves minor league system in just three seasons. The Braves signed him as a 16-year-old in 2014 from the international market out of Venezuela. The outfielder isn’t the first in his family to play professional baseball though. His father, Ronald Acuna Sr., played minor league ball for the New York Mets, Toronto Blue Jays and Milwaukee Brewers, but never advanced above Double-A.

The baseball pedigree doesn’t stop there. Ronald Jr.’s grandfather was a pitcher in his day, and his family is also related to Kansas City shortstop Alcides Escobar.

Acuna Jr. was born with talent in his genes and his hard work off the field has secured his place in Braves history. All of this, though, begins with his faith in God.

“The most important thing is to never lose your faith,” he told Sports Spectrum. “Just because your faith is what helps maintain you, especially during the tough times that happen on the field and off the field.”

It could have been easy for Acuna to lose faith in his lifelong dream of playing professional ball. He wasn’t a highly-touted prospect as an amateur, and didn’t sign for the type of money you would see other top international prospects agree upon. But God had other plans for the soon-to-be phenom.

Since signing with Atlanta, the Braves have challenged him along the way. The Braves chose to have him skip the Dominican summer league, and sent him to rookie-level ball in the Gulf Coast League, no easy task for a young international player.

In 2016, Acuna suffered a thumb injury and was limited to just 40 minor league games. After he recovered, he was sent to play a stint of 20 winter ball games in Australia, another daunting task in a land where very few speak Spanish. But he never lost the faith.

Last year was when many around baseball began to see Acuna’s talent.

He burst through the Braves farm system in 2017 at just 19 years old, starting off in High-A Florida for 28 games, advancing to Double-A Mississippi for 57 games, and finishing the minor league season in Triple-A Gwinnett for the final 54 games. Overall, he hit .325 with 21 home runs, 82 RBIs and 44 stolen bases. He also was selected to play in the highly-acclaimed Arizona Fall League.

It all culminated with him being awarded Baseball America’s 2017 Minor League Player of the Year, Arizona Fall League MVP, and the consensus No. 1 prospect in all of baseball.

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In 2018, he became the youngest player in Major League Baseball, making his big league debut on April 25, and he’s been putting up Rookie of the Year-type numbers ever since.

Through 99 games played, the 20-year-old is hitting .296 with 22 home runs, 56 RBIs, 25 doubles, 14 stolen bases, and 71 runs scored for a Braves team that is on its way to the NL East title.

The young phenom credits his faith for helping him on and off the field, constantly relying on his relationship with the Lord.

“Every time I take the field or even when I wake up, I have a conversation with God,” he said. “I feel like I always pray to Him and have that relationship and I feel like He listens.”

Early on, when many overlooked Ronald Acuna Jr., God didn’t. When Acuna could have lost the faith, he didn’t.

“Your faith is what helps maintain you,” he says.

And from the looks of it, God has bigger plans than what Junior could even imagine.

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