Prospect Report: Will Austin Riley Get An Opportunity In 2018? It’s No Guarantee…

by Eric Stashin (aka The Rotoprofessor)

With the Braves continuing to give their young pitchers opportunities, as they push towards an October run, their young hitting prospects (outside of Ronald Acuna) haven’t gotten as much attention.  The one we’ve all been waiting for is 3B Austin Riley, as there were obvious questions at the position entering the year.  That said Riley remains at Triple-A and there’s no guarantee that he’s given an opportunity to run with the role in 2018.

A knee injury has likely factored into his inability to reach the Majors, as it took him awhile to rediscover his footing.  After missing a month he failed to hit a home run in July (he hit .265 with 4 doubles in 68 AB), and he didn’t homer again until August 11.  He’s come alive over his past eight games, going 8-27 with 4 HR, 7 RBI and 10 R.

Riley was recently quoted by Baseball America as saying:

“Everything is coming back in sync,” Riley said. “Knee feels good, that’s the biggest thing. Coming back was slow, just seeing that pitching everyday, but things are going good right now and I’m just trying to finish strong.”

There has never been a question about his power potential, and seeing him tap into that at the highest levels is a great sign.  He entered Sunday with 9 HR over 285 PA at Triple-A on the season, with a modest 13.8% HR/FB.  There’s room for growth there, as he posted a 21.4% HR/FB over 109 PA at Double-A (6 HR) and he also has 16 doubles during his time at Triple-A.

If he can continue tapping into his power the likelihood of an opportunity in the Majors will grow, though that could come at a price.  Just look at his SwStr% this season:

  • Double-A – 12.1%
  • Triple-A – 14.5%

That number could further rise upon reaching the Majors, and it is going to significantly limit his potential to hit for a strong average.  We aren’t necessarily talking about a Joey Gallo type extreme, but at least initially he could be more of a one-dimensional power threat.  Rich Wilson of Prospect 361 made note of these concerns prior to the season, saying:

The problem, of course, is his penchant to strikeout.  While he did improve last season, the swing mechanics point to a lot of swing and miss.  He did improve his walk rate and if that continues, he could post a .230/.330 batting average/on-base percentage, which should be enough to get him full-time at-bats in the majors.

Is that going to help the Braves any more than Johan Camargo?  That remains to be seen, and while it’s possible he gets an opportunity in the Majors in September don’t assume he’s going to claim the third base job and run with it.  There’s power potential, but he’s not quite there as an overall prospect that should get you excited.

Sources – MILB.com, MLB.com, Prospect 361, Baseball America, Fangraphs

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