When Will Austin Riley See the Majors?
Austin Riley has been one of the hottest hitters in the minor leagues this year. After starting the 2017 season in High-A, Riley already finds himself with the Atlanta Braves top affiiate, the Gwinnett Stripers. The 21 year old is putting up his best numbers of his pro career so far in 2018 and as a result, has many fans questioning when we will see him in the show. But, timing is everything in baseball and many questions remain. How would he fit in with the 2018 edition of the Braves? Does the club really want to start his clock so soon? What about Johan Camargo?
The Atlanta Braves are one of the biggest surprises of 2018. Every morning we wake up and check the box scores to find the Braves still hovering at or around the top of the NL East, something no one expected as we enter June. A lot of this success can be attributed the young players on the roster, or the “Baby Braves”, outperforming expectations. When you throw in veterans like Brandon McCarthy performing well on the mound, or guys like Charlie Culberson and Johan Camargo stepping up in high leverage situations, it seems to have been the perfect storm so far.
With all of the successes the Braves have seen in 2018, there has been one big question mark, among many little ones, the hot corner. Camargo was more or less the favorite for the job heading into opening day, but found himself on the DL with an oblique injury. This meant the Braves would enter 2018 with Ryan Flaherty as their third baseman. A move was then made to bring veteran Jose Bautista in and give him a trial run at the position before he was released just 12 games later. Camargo has since taken on the role, but many don’t think he is the long term solution.
This begs the question, when will we see Riley in a big league uniform? There is certainly room on the roster. I think it is safe to assume the Braves would rather see Camargo in the super utility role as opposed to Culberson, and an Austin Riley promotion would make that happen.
A lot of it obviously has to do with where the Braves find themselves in the standings as the season progresses. This could go one of several ways. The first one being that the Braves find themselves back down to where the projections had them and they fall out of contention by the time September call ups come around. If that were the case, it may be the perfect situation for a Riley promotion. He has started slow in all of his stops, but has eventually heated up to be one of the best players in each level he has seen. If that trend were to continue, he could potentially get all of his struggles out of the way before the Braves “third baseman of the future” opened up the 2019 season at the hot corner.
It is a very real possibility that the Braves we have seen for the first two months of the season are true contenders and the club could view Riley as an asset ready to contribute now. The Washington Nationals are still the top brass of the division and they have quickly come roaring back to the top of the NL East. If the Braves like an infield roster that features Riley and Camargo more than Camargo and Culberson, they could give Riley the call in hopes his bat and much improved defense help carry them to the the wild card game.
Then again, maybe the Braves have no desire to bring Riley up at all this season. However, if he keeps performing the way he has been, he may not give them much of a choice. The Memphis native hit 20 homers in both 2016 and 2017 and has already hit 10 so far in 2018, four of which have come in Triple-A. The .967 OPS is certainly on the front office’s radar, but the thing that may help his case the most is that he is now seen as a plus fielder, something no one was saying earlier in his career. While we have defense on the mind, it is also worth noting that no one has ever questioned the former pitcher’s arm going across the diamond.
The Braves have gone all in on their youngsters this year and they may do the same with their biggest named position player prospect left. Regardless of where the club finds themselves as the season winds down, Riley is making the case with his play that he should be the next guy up.