New kid on the chop: Austin Riley

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How the Braves will claim their second straight NL East title

There seems to be a surplus of remarkably young talent coming from the Braves’ farm system who are all under the age of 22. Those stars include Ronald Acuña, Ozzie Albies, Mike Soroka and their recent call up, Austin Riley.

Riley was taken in the 1st round (41st overall) by Atlanta in the 2015 MLB Draft, and to say that Riley has made a positive impact on the team would be an understatement. Since being called up from Triple-A Gwinnett on May 15th, he’s batting .389/.421/.833 with five home runs in just nine games. The call up has also helped the Braves climb up in the NL East rankings putting themselves only 2.5 games back of the Phillies.

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Atlanta’s front office couldn’t wait to see what Riley could do in the big leagues because he had already hit 13 home runs in just 18 games in Triple-A before being called up this year. Drafted as a third baseman, Riley has been playing left field due to the lumbar strain of three-time Gold Glove winner, Ender Inciarte.

When Inciarte returns back from his injury, he may find a crowded Braves outfield due to Riley’s recent power surge. It will be hard for manager Brian Snitker, who will have to weigh Inciarte’s defense against his new left fielder’s offensive production. With Riley in the lineup, the Braves are averaging 6.4 runs per game, according to Fox Sports.

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The only issue with Riley is his strikeouts. He struck out in over 25 percent of his at bats in the minor leagues, particularly because of high velocity pitches up in the zone. However, when he makes contact with the ball, it goes and it goes far. According to Statcast, Riley’s average exit velocity (95 mph) ranks better than Bryce Harper, Cody Bellinger and Nelson Cruz.

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As the Braves season continues and Inciarte returns, Snitker will have some tough decisions to make about his lineup. Riley has the ability to play the outfield and third base, which gives Snitker some flexibility on how to set up his team. Listed at six-foot-three and 220 pounds, Riley isn’t the fastest player but has an above average throwing arm which makes third base look like a more seamless fit.

It all depends on the production of third baseman, Josh Donaldson. If he’s not making a significant impact offensively, he’s the player that could wind up on the bench. Inciarte’s defense is invaluable and if healthy, Snitker will want him the lineup. Based on the current climate of the game where heavy premiums are placed on home runs, Riley will continue to find himself in the lineup.

With the addition of Bryce Harper, the Phillies are much improved from last year. One of the best ways the Braves can repeat as NL East champions is by leveraging the most important thing in the game today. The long ball.


John LaLoggia writes about baseball at Beyond the Box Score, Banished to the Pen and Foul Territory Baseball. Please follow him on Twitter @JohnLaLoggia, email him at lalogjo@gmail.com.

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