Legends On Deck

Austin Riley’s Locked in for Atlanta

On the same day as the MLB trade deadline, Atlanta’s third baseman Austin Riley signed a 10 year, $212 million dollar extension with the Braves.  It marks the largest contract in club history.  The 25 year old slugger has proven himself to be among MLB’s elite hitters the past two seasons.  In 2021, Riley hit 33 homers with 107 RBIs and a .303 batting average.  He was also a crucial part of the 2021 Braves World Series win.

This season, Riley has already produced 29 home runs and 69 RBIs, while hovering around a .300 average.  He’s also posting above a .950 OPS.  Riley made his first All-Star Game this season.  It is difficult to imagine a better young infield for the defending World Series Champs.  Austin Riley at Third, Dansby Swanson at Short, Ozzie Albies at Second (injured) and Matt Olson at First.  Throw in Ronald Acuna Jr. in the outfield and William Contreras (Catcher / DH) this is perhaps the best positioned franchise for long term success.

The Potential

Though it’s still early in Riley’s career, it’s hard not to compare Austin Riley to some of the greatest to ever play his position.  Names like Braves legend Chipper Jones, George Brett and Mike Schmidt come to mind.  Riley’s size and strength make it seems reasonable that he could (assuming he stays healthy), make that kind of offensive production. It is reasonable to think that Riley could hit is 100th home run before the season is over (he’s at 88 right now).  In recent years, only a handful of players have had above a .300 batting average; Riley is on pace to do it again.

Product of Braves Country

Austin Riley, who grew up in northern Mississippi, turned town a scholarship to play ball at Mississippi State to be selected 41st overall in the 2015 MLB Draft.  Coming up in the Braves system, we covered his journey at Legends on Deck.  Back in 2017, Riley earned “Player of the Week” in the Florida State League (then High-A), as a member of the Florida Fire Frogs.  In 2018, Riley was one of the hottest hitters in MiLB with the Gwinnett Stripers.  By 2019, he’d find himself a regular in Atlanta.

Austin Riley with the Gwinnett Stripers in 2018. Photo by Mathew Carper.

The Atlanta Braves, being the only MLB team in the South (outside of Florida or Texas), have a wide ranging fan base.  This includes the Carolinas, Alabama, Mississippi and Tennessee.  It even includes many fan in Florida, who did not have an MLB franchise until the 1990s.  Interestingly enough, much of the top talent on this team comes from Braves Country.  Both Dansby Swanson (Kennesaw) and Matt Olson (Liburn) are natives of the Atlanta suburbs.  Starting pitchers Kyle Wright is from Huntsville (AL) and Spencer Strider played college ball at Clemson.

Can the Braves be the Team of the 2020s?

The success of the Atlanta Braves franchise in the late 20th century, gave them that “team of the 90s” nickname.  Between 1990-1999 the Braves would win 5 National League pennants and the 1995 World Series.  Those teams included Hall of Famers Tom Glavine, Greg Maddux, John Smoltz and Chipper Jones.  Winning a World Series in 2021, puts the modern day Braves in a strong position for the years come.  Wrapping up Austin Riley for the next decade is a key part of continuing their success.

Brian Koss
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