(Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images)
By Conor Liguori
Atlanta Braves outfielder and 2023 National League Most Valuable Player Ronald Acuna Jr. defeated Yasiel Puig in the final round of the Liga Venezolana de Beisbol Profesional Festival del Jonrón Pepsi on Monday, his second consecutive title after winning the event in 2022.
This year, the LVBP home run derby competition was held at Estadio Monumental de Caracas, home to the Leones del Caracas.
There were 12 competitors in the derby this year, including Rougned Odor, Eduardo Escobar, Francisco Alvarez, Jose Rondon, Wilson Garcia, Eugenio Suarez, Gleyber Torres, Anthony Santander, Jackson Chourio, Yasiel Puig, Miguel Cabrera, and, of course, Ronald Acuna Jr.
Acuna defeated Milwaukee Brewers prospect Jackson Chourio in the first round, who is also the No. 2 ranked prospect in all of Major League Baseball, according to MLB Pipeline. Chourio’s skill set includes much power from his bat, but he only managed to send four over the wall. Acuna followed Chourio by hitting five home runs in about 45 seconds to eliminate the phenom.
Acuna’s final-round opponent, Yasiel Puig, defeated Venezuelan baseball icon Miguel Cabrera thirteen home runs to three to move on. Puig, a former flamboyant one-time MLB all-star with the Los Angeles Dodgers, was the only participant from a country other than Venezuela to compete in the derby. Puig was born in Cienfuegos, Cuba.
Although they opposed one another on Monday, Acuna and Puig are teammates for the Tiburones de La Guaira this LVBP season. Puig went first in the championship round and hit seven home runs. Acuna, already showing he could hit home runs in bunches quickly, hit eight dingers to win the competition. Acuna’s teammates and friends stormed the field and jumped up and down in celebration, with him caught right in the middle of the action.
The 25-year-old Acuna is playing in LVBP for the second straight season and has already surpassed the 10 games he played with the Tiburones de La Guaira during the 2022-23 season. In 15 games, Acuna has lit the league on fire, hitting .443 with seven home runs and 18 RBI in just 78 plate appearances.
After Acuna’s tremendous MVP season with the Atlanta Braves, one might think he would spend the first few months of the offseason relaxing at home or going on a luxurious vacation. Still, Acuna knows how important and well-liked he is amongst fans from his home country.
“I am playing in Venezuela because many people cannot come to see me in the United States,” Acuna told Hector Gomez of Z101 Digital. “Additionally, last year I played here, and it greatly contributed to having a successful season in the Major Leagues.”
The home run derby champion, and the Tiburones de La Guaira (21-22), defeated the Leones del Caracas (27-17) 2-1 on Tuesday. Their next game will be on Wednesday, December 13, at 5 p.m. ET against the Caribes de Anzoategui.
Festival Jonron Pepsi Winners
2000- Melvin Mora
2002- Alex Cabrera
2003- Luis Raven
2004- Eliezer Alfonzo
2005- Miguel Cabrera
2006- Eliezer Alfonzo
2008- Pablo Sandoval
2009- Bobby Abreu
2010- Eliezer Alfonzo
2011- Luis Jimenez
2012- Miguel Cabrera
2014- Mario Lisson
2015- Carlos Gonzalez
2016- Carlos Gonzalez
2017- Wilson Contreras
2018- Delmon Young
2021- William Contreras
2022- Ronald Acuna Jr.
2023- Ronald Acuna Jr.