Defense in-depth: Ronald Acuna Jr. and Juan Soto
By NICK RABASCO
As we wait for the MLB season to start, I thought it might be interesting to do defensive scouting reports on some notable players.
You’ve likely read scouting reports that cover the strengths and weaknesses of a player as a hitter or baserunner, but you probably don’t know much about their defense, other than maybe that they’re a good defender or a bad defender. I’m here to help.
I’m a former collegiate baseball player at East Stroudsburg University working at SIS as a Senior Video Scout. I watched a lot of baseball in 2019 and am familiar with the MLB player universe at an advanced level.
So let’s start by looking at a couple of young stars– Ronald Acuña Jr. and Juan Soto. What do they do well? What do they need work on?
These reports are based on considerable video study from the 2019 season.
Ronald Acuña Jr.
Acuña is an exciting young player that has room for improvement defensively.
He tends to struggle to get great reads and jumps on balls hit in front of him. He ends up being forced to adjust his routes on these plays. He also plays too aggressively at times, as he dives and slides for some balls that he has no chance to catch.
Luckily, Acuña possesses great speed that helps make up for some of his shaky routes and bad reads. Another weakness is that a few too many balls clank off his glove on plays that are 50/50. It seems like his head may be moving too much when he is sprinting towards a ball, causing the ball to look like it’s moving.
One of his strengths is getting to balls that are behind him. He tends to get better jumps on these balls and has a good sense of where the warning track and wall are, especially for his age. He also has a tremendous arm that can play at any outfield spot.
In summary: Acuña is an exciting outfielder that should be able to stay in center field until his speed starts to abandon him a little bit.
The analytics: Acuña finished tied for 16th among outfielders with 11 Defensive Runs Saved. He saved 3 runs in left field, 3 runs in center field, and 5 runs in right field.
Soto is a solid left fielder that lacks elite speed but makes up for it with a good feel for the position. He still makes some mistakes that you would expect a young player to make, like being too aggressive with dives on balls hit in front of him. He also tries to deceive runners by flashing his glove a bit too much on balls that could be trying to catch.
Soto has an advanced feel for the warning track and wall, as he made a bunch of leaping catches at the wall last year, both on balls hit behind and on balls hit to his right in foul territory. He struggles more on hard-hit balls behind him, as his first step is often in on these, which is to be expected for a younger player.
His routes are much better and smoother when going laterally, rather than back or in. His arm is not very strong, and it’s easy to see why he has stayed in left field.
In summary: Soto should be able to be a steady left fielder for a while who won’t save a ton of runs but also won’t cost many either.
The analytics: Soto finished with 0 Defensive Runs Saved last season. He saved 6 runs with Range & Positioning, which tied for fourth among left fielders, but his arm cost him five runs (the other run lost came from Good Fielding PLays & Defensive Misplays).