No need for Braves to rush Austin Riley

This Atlanta prospect will be worth the wait...

Garrett Chapman
May 07, 2019 - 3:50 pm
Atlanta Braves third baseman prospect Austin Riley

© Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

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It’s hard to believe that this time a year ago, Braves country was drooling over a big-time prospect that had the potential to make waves across Major League Baseball. That prospect took the league by storm and eventually won the National League Rookie of the Year.

Now, we have Austin Riley to drool over.

While he had a bit of a slow start to his Triple-A season this year, it is safe to say that the 22-year-old third baseman is on a bit of a hot streak over in Gwinnett. And when he gets hot, he gets white-hot. Just look at his last 14 games, for example. He is slashing an incomprehensible .389/.450/.963 with eight home runs, seven doubles, 21 RBI, and 17 runs.

And some of those home runs may still be flying.

In the 53 at-bats over this period, Riley had 22 hits. Of those hits, an incredible 75 percent of those went for extra bases. He even had a night where he went 3-for-3 with two home runs and five RBI. And, oh yeah, that was only in 5 innings because only the rain could save the Durham Bulls from Austin Riley’s wrath.

In the Braves’ talent-rich farm system, Riley has managed to set himself apart from the crowd. He comes in as the top-ranked non-pitching prospect in the organization. He has developed into a legitimate power threat and has shown significant improvements each year that he has been in the system. As a young prospect, Riley struggled with patience and contact at the plate. His swing was too long, and he struggled with offspeed pitches. After choking up on the bat and making a few other adjustments at the plate, he was able to right the ship, and even catch the eye of one Chipper Jones.

Riley can simply hit the cover off of the ball. And he could develop into a perfect safety blanket for Ronald Acuña and Freddie Freeman at the front end of the lineup down the road. If his development continues, Riley could become an elite hitter for the Braves over the next decade.

However, he still has more adjustments to make. In spring training, Riley’s first five at-bats were all strikeouts. In his time in Triple-A, that concern has not been alleviated as he still strikes out at least once every 3.6 at-bats. While it is possible to still be successful at the plate while striking out at a high volume, especially in this day and age of baseball, it shows there is still definitive room for improvement at the plate.

As a converted pitching prospect, defense became one of the biggest areas that Riley needed to show improvement. While he could show off a cannon of an arm, he lacked true range that every third baseman needs to excel on the hot corner. Like in most faults of his game, he has shown improvements, but his scouting reports still show a deficiency. Although, the genius that is Ron Washington should help with his confidence with more one-on-one time when he makes his way to majors.

As a player that oozes potential, any fan would want to see him in a Braves’ jersey as soon as possible. But is that something reasonable to expect? Riley could be the big thing in Braves’ lore and he could finally put an end to the revolving door that has been third base in Atlanta.

With all of that being said, there simply isn’t space on the roster yet. Josh Donaldson has been earning his $23 million contract and there’s no reason to expect that to drop off anytime soon.

But what if the Braves put him in the outfield?

That’s another idea that has been thrown around. But why rush that when you have a healthy and confident Nick Markakis occupying that right field slot? It would be difficult to justify that decision, too.

The facts of the matter are that he still needs to develop and the best way for that to happen is by getting reps at third base and at the plate in Gwinnett. Getting the call-up to Atlanta only to come off the bench would only stunt his development and potentially hamper his future prospects in the majors. This isn’t even to mention the logjam that would be in place with other competent players like Johan Camargo and Charlie Culberson sitting around in the dugout.

Ultimately, Riley has shown the ability to recognize the deficiencies in his game and, more importantly, a willingness to knock out those kinks. If he continues to improve, he should be in the majors in no time. Riley is the perfect candidate for a call up when the rosters expand on Sept. 1, and he has all the tools to make that a successful transition. However, fans need to be patient and not look to rush the young third baseman.

He will be worth the wait.

 

 

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