Braves promote top prospect Austin Riley
Austin Riley has arrived in Atlanta.
The Atlanta Braves’ top position prospect earned his major-league promotion on Wednesday following his torrid start to the 2019 campaign. Riley, 22, hit 15 home runs with a 1.057 OPS in his first 37 games for Triple-A Gwinnett this season, building on a pro career spent as one of the top performers in the minors.
“I felt good down in Triple-A. I was swinging the bat well, worked on a few things,” Riley said when he arrived at SunTrust Park on Wednesday. “Cut down on the strikeouts, more consistent contact. I actually brought the walks up a little bit and that’s kind of (one of) the goals I was going for.
“I’ve been swinging it well. Happy to be here.”
With three-time Gold Glove winner Ender Inciarte moving to the injured list with a lumbar strain, the Braves selected the Riley’s contract, opting to extend an opportunity to another promising young player as opposed to a veteran placeholder.
The 41st overall pick in the 2015 domestic draft — the same draft which netted pitchers Mike Soroka, A.J. Minter, Kolby Allard and Patrick Weigel for Atlanta — is one of the top third-base prospects in baseball but, given Josh Donaldson‘s presence and production at the major-league level, he recently received regular playing time in left field to pave the way for his promotion.
“I think I can be pretty good (in left field),” Riley said. ” … It’s a little bit more relaxed. I have time to read the ball. I think the biggest thing is going to be my speed, obviously I’m not the fastest guy out there. If I can really hone in on jumps, seeing the ball off the bat, I can handle myself out there fine.”
Atlanta will shift reigning National League Rookie of the Year Ronald Acuña Jr. into everyday center field duty to make room for Riley in left. Either Riley, Johan Camargo or Charlie Culberson could also start at third base if manager Brian Snitker opts to give Donaldson a day off.
Among the players on the active roster, only Acuña, right fielder Nick Markakis and veteran backup Matt Joyce have ever logged time in center field, though Joyce and Markakis have combined for just 16 innings in center this decade. (In other words, Acuña is the everyday center fielder until further notice.)
Over the course of 480 pro games, including a strong showing in the 2017 Arizona Fall League, Riley is slashing .284/.350/.510 with 92 home runs.
Since his rookie-ball season in 2015, only 14 players have hit more home runs than Riley (86) in minor-league play.