Austin Riley was considered a top prospect and he made an impact upon his debut in 2019, but if we are to believe the chatter there’s no room for him once the 2020 season starts. Really?
- Outfield – The addition of Marcell Ozuna does seem to squeeze Riley out, with Ozuna, Ronald Acuna and Ender Inciarte expected to start (with Nick Markakis in the mix)
- Third Base – The talk is that Johan Camargo will open the year as the starter
It’s third base that’s the curious decision, considered the production from both players last season:
- Austin Riley – .226 (62-274), 18 HR, 49 RBI
- Johan Camargo – .233 (54-232), 7 HR, 32 RBI
Considering the number of at bats Riley has already received it is hard to claim that it would be a service time game that the team is going to play. They’ve already started his arbitration clock and given him a significant amount of playing time, so thinking that they aren’t going to use him this year because of future contract concerns would seem to be misguided.
As for the actual performance, both players had problems with their batting average though Riley was clearly the more accomplished bat. His power appeared to be difference making, something Camargo has never shown (30 HR over 1,028 career PA in the Majors). Now the question is how real was Riley’s mark?
While his 22.0% HR/FB could be slightly inflated, especially considering his lack of additional extra base hits (11 doubles and 1 triple), his Statcast metrics help to reinforce the power:
- Barrel% – 13.7% (league average was 6.3%)
- Exit Velocity – 89.4 (league average was 87.5)
- Launch Angle – 20.6 (league average was 11.2)
The bigger question will be whether or not he can refine his approach enough to consistently tap into the power. He posted an ugly 20.5% SwStr% and 41.3% O-Swing%, as opposing pitchers fed him a steady stream of breaking balls (34.45%). It’s not to say that he made consistent contact against any type of pitch, but the Whiff% is telling:
- Hard – 17.38%
- Breaking – 25.65%
- Offspeed – 29.27%
Until he proves that he can consistently make contact there are going to be concerns and the potential for the Braves to keep Riley pinned at Triple-A. Of course Camargo is hardly an improvement (12.5% SwStr%, 41.0% O-Swing%), and he doesn’t bring the same power potential. Maybe the Braves stick with “the plan” and use Camargo at the hot corner to open the season, but that shouldn’t last long. Riley carries his own risk, but as his price drops based on the current chatter he becomes worth the gamble to stash on your bench and find out.
Sources – Fangraphs, Baseball Savant, Brooks Baseball
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