Braves roster battles: Third Base

aav19080252 braves vs reds

In our third installment of Braves roster battles, we move to perhaps the most intriguing competition of them all, and the one that will have the most impact on the season. These two had polar opposite results last year, but both began Spring Training 1.0 by putting whatever struggles they had in the rearview. Whoever continues that success into Spring Training 2.0 will find themselves the everyday third baseman. If you missed either of our two previous pieces on the Braves roster battles, click the links below. 

Johan Camargo

In 2017, Camargo burst onto the Major League scene as an unknown prospect to most. He was praised primarily for his infield glove, which was viewed as perhaps the best in the entire organization, but most did not expect him to have so much success with the bat. 

As a rookie, Camargo finished a point shy of the .300 mark, smashing 21 doubles, four homers, and 27 RBIs in 82 games. The Panama native performed so well that, instead of spending money the following offseason on a third baseman, the Braves decided to give him a chance at earning the full-time job, and he didn’t flinch. 

2018 was a sign of a player that could be a budding star at the top level. Camargo was a plus defensively, and while his average took a slight dip, his increase in power made him that much more valuable. In just 134 games, he hit 19 homers and 27 doubles, posting a WAR of over 3 — one of the best marks on the team — but it wasn’t enough for him to earn the nod at the position for years to come. 

In the 2018 offseason, the Braves were able to ink superstar free agent Josh Donaldson to a one-year, prove-it contract. The deal ended up working in the team’s favor, and it also allowed Donaldson to land the lucrative contract he was looking for this past offseason, but Camargo was never able to adjust to his new role. 

The Braves stated before the season that their goal was to make Camargo a super-utility player that would see several starts throughout a given week. However, Brian Snitker never used him as such, and he quickly became a glorified pinch hitter — a role he struggled so mightily with that he found himself in AAA before long. 

After a successful stint with the Stripers, the Braves called Camargo back up, and he started to look like himself again. But unfortunately, a foul ball off of his shin resulted in a fracture, which cost him the rest of his season. However, his surge at the end of the year convinced the Braves that 3.0+ WAR player from two years ago is still in there. He will have every opportunity to earn consistent at-bats, especially with a DH in the National League. 

Austin Riley

With Riley, it didn’t take him but one game to start making an impact at the big-league level. In his Major League debut on May 15th, he smashed a solo shot in a 4-0 win over the St. Louis Cardinals, which was just the beginning of a month in which he slugged seven home runs and posted a slash line of .356/.397/.746/1.143. 

June is were his struggles became apparent. Although he tallied seven more homers in the month, his average saw nearly a 100 point dip, and his strikeout numbers became impossible to ignore, racking up 37 of them in just 106 at-bats. Pitchers were beginning to figure out the formula for punching out Riley, something he was never able to adjust to before the end of his rookie campaign. 

Knee surgery cost Riley most of August and into September, which was detrimental towards his chances of breaking out of his slump before the postseason. He returned on September 6th, but his full-time job as a starter was long gone, and after hitting .132 in the final month with 18 strikeouts in just 38 at-bats, Brian Snitker had no choice but to leave him off the playoff roster, ending his rookie campaign. 

With Riley, the intrigue is all about the potential. Make no mistake about it; if he were still a prospect, he would be the Braves top prospect in the organization ahead of Cristian Pache. This young man has the ability to be a 40+ home run player year in and year out, which he showcased in his first month in the majors.

Like Albies did in his rookie year and so many major leaguers before him, it’s not atypical to fall into a substantial slump after a scorching start as a rookie. Nobody should be counting Riley out. Albies was able to bounce back with an even better second season, and that is what should be expected from Riley, whether it is as the everyday third baseman or a DH. 

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