This week we kick off an on-going off-season series here at Prospects Live based around debating two players with similar profiles. We’re obviously splitting hairs on these guys, but that’s the point. To dig in, have some uncomfortable conversations and provide some differing perspectives. Feel free to hop into the comments and add your two cents. Suggestions for future battles are encouraged as well. Enjoy!
Acuña and Soto are similar players looking at aggregate production. A few key differences make me want to invest in Acuña over Soto. What Soto has working for him is an extremely advanced knowledge of the strike zone and probably the most advanced pitch recognition we’ve seen in a 19-year-old. What he hasn’t shown in his near-500 plate appearance sample is the ability to hit breaking balls at an advanced level (I’m nit-picking here) or lift balls like Acuña. Soto could very well adjust out of his 87th percentile ground-ball rate, but for now I’ll take Acuña’s swing and miss. I think a more discipline Acuña would be scarier than a “lifted” version Juan Soto, but this is really splitting hairs.
For me, if we’re looking at this through a fantasy lens, I’ll take Ronald Acuña over Juan Soto. Not many players have the ability to steal 25+ bases like Acuña does, and he can also pair those 25 swipes with 25+ bombs too. If we’re talking about pure hitting ability it’s hard to find much fault in Soto’s .406 OBP as a 19-year old and his beautiful all fields approach. Acuña has significantly more pull-side power according to the eye test, but Soto has that Joey Votto-esque ability to not chase anything while hitting the ball to any specific point in the park. Defensively, Acuña is the more athletic of the pair and would’ve played centerfield in some organizations. Soto is limited to LF only. Overall I’ll take Acuña because he has a chance at becoming a top five overall player in the game soon because he can contribute in all five categories and has all five tools.
I don’t like this question. That must make it a question worth answering. Offensively, this comes down to a pick your preference situation. Soto has the superior eye and bat-to-ball skills. His age 19 season is one for the record books. He posted the highest OBP (.406) and OPS (.923) as a teenager in MLB history. Let that sink in. His name is already linked to teammate Bryce Harper and the legendary Ken Griffey, Jr. What makes his feat even more impressive is that he did this after just 35 plate appearances in AA. If that isn’t crazy enough, Soto only played 23 games last season.
Acuña, on the other hand, was subject to service time manipulation to start the year. The prospect world patiently awaited his arrival. Acuña rebounded from a near-miss ACL injury to post 26 HR and 16 SB and a .552 SLG. His 15 HR after August 1 led the Braves to the NL East division title. Acuña’s speed and defense prowess are the great separator between he and Soto. So I’m going with Acuña. More power and more speed is hard to pass up. Soto has a chance to produce Votto-esque numbers while Acuña has the tools to surpass Trout as the best overall player in the game.
This is a cruel question and asking it is akin to asking a parent who their favorite child is. I have seen both players, and I loved both of them. Acuña does it all. I could list the five tools, but you know what they are. Soto’s approach at the plate and use of all fields was uber advanced. What he did in the majors at 19 this season was incredible. The contrarian asshole in me wanted to pick Soto, but when I look at some of the Baseball Savant data it becomes difficult to go in that direction. One sign that suggests Acuña is the safer bet to maintain his performance is his performance vs non fastballs. This chart lends itself to the idea that there are more ways to attack Soto than Acuña. Acuña also had the better hard hit rate. To be reductive, if we are picking between the guy who may be Trout 2.0 and the guy who may be Votto 2.0, give me the fish.
The debate here is simple, it transcends even the two individuals being discussed. It’s a battle of player types. The middle of the order stalwart that balances power, contact, and approach vs. the dynamic five tool player, with less polish, but more value in more places. I take a different approach when discussing the two, choosing to evaluate each over the course of a decade with the next five years belonging to Acuña vs. the last five, where I lean Soto.
Players like Acuña tend to burn hot early and flame out, to an extent, as they age and athleticism wains. There’s certainly exceptions to the rule, and Acuña has the talent to be one of them. It still remains to be seen, and injuries do happen. For now he offers more value than Soto in the field and on the bases by a wide margin. Acuña can play all three outfield positions, and play them well. Soto on the other hand has struggled to produce league average fielding. Base-running isn’t even close. Acuña has the speed to steal 30 consistently in big leagues for the next several seasons. Soto stole five bases this year, and that’s just about his ceiling.
As for the bat, Soto’s production was slightly better when looking at advanced metrics that measure overall offensive performance. Measurements like wOBA, wRC+, and O-WAR all lean Soto, but every so slightly. Much of that is based around his 16% Bb% to Acuña’s 9%. That said, Acuña’s 40%ish flyball % and Soto’s 50%+ groundball rate tell a different story. While this approach might boost Soto’s batting average (don’t forget ground balls have a higher BABIP than flys), but it limits his power production. The lack of flyballs from Soto is an area where the Nationals outfielder will need to make improvements to truly touch his ceiling. I do believe that a 27 year old Soto has a chance to develop into a generational middle of the order bat in the vein of his forefathers like Miguel Cabrera, Albert Pujols, and Manny Ramirez. If Soto reaches that point as Acuña’s athleticism begins to wane, it’s very possible 2024-2028 belongs to Soto.