Ronald Acuna Jr. is back. The Braves announced this morning that they have reinstated their star outfielder from the list of 10-day injured – the culmination of a nine-and-a-half-month rehabilitation process following an ACL tear that was inflicted in July last year. It’s a bit of a surprise as the Braves had targeted a return on May 6, according to manager Brian Snitker, though Snitker at the time of this statement acknowledged that the date was not set in stone. In a similar roster move, Atlanta has appointed outfielder Alex Dickerson to task.
The 24-year-old Acuna is one of the game’s most dynamic talents and has actually been so since the moment he reached the Majors as a 21-year-old in 2018. Shook off a few tough weeks to begin the original MLB promotion Acuna went into pieces and finished the ’18 campaign as the almost unanimous Rookie of the Year winner, claiming 27 out of 30 votes in first place (where two went to John Soto and one goes to Walker Buehler).
Acuna hit 26 homers and hit 16 bases like a rookie, hitting a .293 / .366 / .552 clip along the way. He has kept that pace in the three seasons since then, and will come off the injury list and build on a .281 / .376 / .549 career battle line, adding to his already impressive total of 105 big league homeruns (to say nothing of 78 doubles, seven triples and 78 steals).
While some fans may worry that Acuna will be rushed back to the major leagues, he has certainly shown no rust in his limited work with Triple-A Gwinnett so far. It’s only six matches and 25 record appearances, but Acuna is 7-to-19 with a double, six times and three stolen bases (in three attempts), which certainly paints the picture of someone whose major knee injury is solid behind him. And given that the Braves’ outfield produces – or rather, does not produce – at an alarming level, Atlanta brass has chosen to proactively take a step to inject some life into the offense.
Marcell Ozuna has had a great start in the left field and hit .257 / .291 / .486 with four homers and five doubles a year. It’s a little light in the OBP department, but power production has generally offset Ozuna’s lack of walks. The rest of Atlanta’s outfield, however, has been nothing short of a disaster. Adam Duvall hits .197 / .250 / .258 in 72 record appearances. Eddie Rosario hit .068 / .163 / .091 in 49 record appearances before undergoing an eye procedure that will put him on the sidelines for up to 12 weeks. Guillermo Heredia hits .158 / .273 / .368 in 22 record appearances. The Braves have gotten some production in small samples from infielder who have become utilityman Orlando Arcia and past prospects Travis Demerittebut it is clear that the current group was not enough for a team with designs to defend a World Series championship.
Dickerson, at whose expense Acuna returns, was also a notable culprit when it comes to the Braves’ general lack of offense. He was signed in late spring to a one-year deal, and he has primarily been used as a designated fighter against right-handed pitching, but has only gone 4-for-33 with an extra-base hit (a homer) while striking out in a quarter of an hour. his 36 record appearances.
The 31-year-old Dickerson has generally been a prolific hitter in his big league career when he was healthy, though the health reservation has been big. Dickerson was out throughout the 2017-18 season thanks to Tommy John surgery and back surgery, and he has spent a long time on the injury list even in his active seasons. He goes back to the 2019 campaign and has been sent to the injury list with wrist, shoulder, oblique, hamstring and back injuries.
Dickerson was a revelation for the 2019-20 Giants after going from San Diego to San Francisco in exchange for minor league reliever Franklin Van Gurp. In 341 record appearances with the Giants during the two seasons, he reached for a .294 / .361 / .552 clip, mashing 16 homeruns, 23 doubles and four triples, while going with a solid clip of 8.5% and striking out with 19.1% of his record appearances (a good distance south of the league average). Dickerson’s 2021 season, however, featured a trio of IL stays due to a shoulder, a back and a hamstring strain. He made a minor slash of .233 / .304 / .420 last season and has not yet corrected the ship until now in 2022.
The Braves will have a week to swap Dickerson, place him on direct dispensations or release him. Given his track record and an affordable salary of $ 1 million on his 2022 contract, it is possible that another club will take a look. However, it is equally, if not more plausible, that teams will just wait for Dickerson to waive exemptions and hope to get him as a free agent. Because he has more than five years of MLB service, Dickerson may decline a transfer to the minors after approving waivers and still retaining his salary.