If you took a poll of Braves Country (this is obviously just speculation), I would imagine three out of every four people would be totally unopposed to trading Austin Riley for a more proven third baseman — even if that third baseman came with only one or two years of control. Based on Riley’s performance over the last two seasons, that’s somewhat understandable. Still, it’s utterly ridiculous to assume he can’t take steps forward and become the player most thought he would be.
In a way, Riley’s suffering from his own teammates’ success. Braves fans have been lucky to watch top prospects like Ronald Acuña, Max Fried, Mike Soroka, Ian Anderson, and Ozzie Albies come up and have immediate success at the big-league level. But that isn’t the typical path for most prospects, even the better ones like Austin Riley.
Most young guys, which is exactly what Riley is at just 23-years-old, take a couple of seasons before they start experiencing real major league success. Riley doesn’t even have 140 games under his belt. It’s far too early to believe what we’ve seen thus far is what he will be for the entirety of his career. In fact, there are many more examples to suggest a break out may be just around the corner, which is why Jim Bowden of The Athletic included him on his list of ten breakout predictions for the 2021 season. Here’s why he still believes in Riley:
When I first saw Riley, like most evaluators, I immediately envisioned former Angels power hitter Troy Glaus. He hasn’t lived up to those expectations yet. The Braves have moved him from third base to left field, among other positions, but now he’s the starting third baseman, period. Switching positions has certainly factored into his lack of production. However, at the beginning of his major-league career, Glaus hit 30 home runs in his first 716 at-bats. Riley has 26 in just 462 at-bats. And by the way, Glaus led the AL with 47 homers the following year, his third in the majors. I’m not saying Riley is going to accomplish that in 2021, but I do think the two players have similarities and it’s realistic to think the 23-year-old will hit 35 to 40 homers this year, albeit with a batting average around .250 and an on-base percentage of about .320
Like Bowden, I don’t imagine Riley will ever be a high average guy at the major-league level. However, he definitely has the power to smash 30-40 home runs every season while playing decent defense at the hot corner, which is extremely valuable on a team where he won’t be asked to hit higher than sixth.
I understand the Braves championship window is open, and everybody is antsy to push all the chips in. However, what’s the most conducive way to make sure that the window closes quickly? Trade away your young talent for expiring contracts. Keeping Austin Riley and giving him everyday at-bats is best for the Braves now and in the future. It’s way too early to give up on him, and Braves fans should be excited for what he could bring to the table in 2021.