Why Riley's Transition to 1B for Braves Might Not Be Easy

Same for Adam Duvall or Johan Camargo as Atlanta looks for a Freddie Freeman fill-in.

Knox Bardeen
July 07, 2020 - 2:12 pm
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In his 14 MLB seasons, Geoff Blum played 885 games on the left side of the infield but was shifted over to first base and played 80 there as well. He knows how tough that transition was.

On Tuesday, Blum spoke with The Morning Show with John & Hugh about what the Braves might have to do to get someone at first base now that Freddie Freeman has tested positive for COVID-19 and the season start is 16 days away.

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“Everybody just kind of assumes that first base is where you put your slugger that's going to go out there and drive you in 100 RBI and just catch a couple of baseballs that come over to them from across the diamond,” said Blum. “But it's not that easy.”

“I made the transition from the left side of the field to the right side and I soon realized that you have to be pretty athletic to be able to play first base as far as when ground balls are hit, especially in this era when we shift so much. Guys are usually playing well off first base. You gotta get to the bag, get the footwork down, and be able to see that ball.”

Freeman played 158 games last season at first base, leaving few opportunities – Austin Riley, Charlie Culberson, and Francisco Cervelli were the only other Braves on the roster that started a game at first base – for anyone else. And quite honestly, that’s what’s best for the Braves, Freeman mashing the ball day in and day out and manning first.

Manager Brian Snitker may have to temporarily replace Freeman to start the season. If so, what’s the best scenario for Atlanta?

Snitker mentioned Austin Riley, Adam Duvall, and Johan Camargo on Sunday as options. Riley was already working at first base when the Braves first convened for Spring Training back in spring. Duvall could start working at first base soon, per the Braves manager.

It’s easy to think of the positives in a move that pushes Riley to first and leaves Camargo at third. Having both in the lineup defensively as well as offensively (the universal DH helped both in terms of getting at-bats in 2020) could ease the transition.

Related: Should Acuña Jr. bat third in Freeman's place?

Duvall hasn’t played first base in an actual game since 2018, and he’s only logged 263 innings over there in 43 games during his six-year career. Blum explained that his experience in moving across the diamond foretells potential growing pains, whatever option Atlanta uses.

“One of the things that I really found to be tough was when guys were on base, trying to figure out where the relays were going and do I follow the trail runner on a double,” Blum said. “When relays and cuts are out there which base are we going to and how do I get myself in position.

“So, it's not as easy as you think it is. And then of course you've gotta deal with the pickoff throws that come over. Left-handers have some really good moves when they come over to first base. There are a lot more intricate details at first base once you get over there than you realize, and it makes it a pretty tough transition. You get spoiled when you have a guy like Freddie Freeman that does it so easily.”