While attending the Braves-Tigers Spring Training game on Saturday afternoon in Lakeland, I heard Austin Riley talking with some fans as he signed autographs before the first pitch.
Naturally, he was greeted with questions regarding whether he would see time in the outfield this season. Riley said he worked out in the outfield “a little,” but most importantly, said in regards to the majors, “however I can get up there.”
That is exactly what you want to hear Riley say. However, his guess is as good as ours right now when and where that will happen. While the Braves could certainly use a power bat such as Austin’s in the middle of the lineup, there are no glaring holes on the offense currently. Last season, depth was a great concern for the Braves, and if not for being sidelined for a healthy chunk of the season, Riley may have gotten a call in September.
Things have gotten trickier since then. The Braves added Josh Donaldson at the hot corner, and while he has had trouble staying on the field the last two seasons, they have an everyday talent at the position who is transitioning to a utility role in Johan Camargo. The Braves have a full outfield now, and Adam Duvall is finally showing glimpses of hope in Spring Training as a fourth outfielder.
Riley has established himself as the Braves’ best hitting prospect and is one of the best prospects at the hot corner in all of baseball. He reached AAA last season and performed well. He projects as a power hitter in the big leagues, and the Braves could desperately use one more of those. However, it may take an injury or trade to see him in an everyday role as early as this season.
Riley is going to have to stay on his toes to figure out what his role will be in 2019, but it seems close to a guarantee we will see him debut at some point. His attitude about the situation is what he will need as he enters the waiting game of service time loopholes and potential injuries to get his chance. Regardless of what happens, it is nice to know the Braves are developing a contingency plan to deploy Riley soon wherever they see fit.