Braves View Austin Riley As Vital To Future
Austin Riley’s position is uncertain, but the Braves remain excited about the 22-year-old's future.
Riley, lauded for home runs and loathed for strikeouts, was left off Atlanta's National League Division Series roster after a disappointing finish in which he hit .132/.190/.263 with one homer in September. He struck out in 18 of his 38 at-bats.
Riley had just returned from a partially torn lateral collateral ligament in his right knee that derailed his rookie season. He started hot, earning rookie of the month honors in May after hitting .356 with seven homers and 20 RBIs in his first 15 games.
But Riley fell back to earth and illustrated the primary concern with him when he was a minor leaguer: strikeouts. He ultimately struck 36 percent of the time with Atlanta.
Riley was at the Braves' facilities in North Port, Fla., working out during the NLDS and would have been an option had the Braves advanced.
"It was an inconsistent season,” general manager Alex Anthopoulos said. "He came up, he was unbelievable. Then they found some holes and he needed to make adjustments and changes. As we sit here today, do I see us cementing him and giving him a position going into next year, whether it’s outfield or third base? That’s unlikely at this point."
The Braves could have a vacancy at third base should Josh Donaldson depart in free agency. Anthopoulos doesn’t seem inclined to seamlessly pass the job to Riley, but his ability to handle third, first base and left field helps his case for playing time.
Even so, the Braves could have Riley play more regularly at Triple-A to start the season. The possibility of a trade can’t be ruled out if Donaldson is retained—Riley would be a valued commodity—but the Braves haven’t exactly been aggressive in dealing their prized young players the past two winters.
"He’s a young player. He’s got options,” Anthopoulos said. "He knows this. The likelihood is he comes in and competes at some position, in some role, unless a trade presents itself or we sign a free agent.
"But it doesn’t change what our thought is on him long-term. We think he’s going to be an exciting, dynamic player for us.”