The competition at third base has been ongoing since Josh Donaldson made it official and signed with the Twins. The Braves opted not to add another option into the mix, and instead roll with what they had — Austin Riley and Johan Camargo.
After both experienced success in Spring Training 1.0, neither have been worth very much since the restart. According to FanGraphs, they both have been below replacement level players so far this season. However, the tide appears to be turning in favor of Austin Riley over the last several weeks.
The 23-year-old slugger began the season just like he finished the 2019 campaign — in a major funk. Riley had just a .087 batting average with a .371 OPS and eight strikeouts in July (23 at-bats), but he’s seen steady improvement ever since the calendar turned to August.
In his last eighteen games, Riley has a respectable .255 average with three home runs — good for a .760 OPS. His strikeout rate is still a tad high, but that’s probably something we are just going to have to accept with Riley, and hope that his power makes up for it. He’s currently on a five-game hitting streak, where he’s slashing .389/.450/.611 with a home run, five RBIs, and just three strikeouts — another sign that he’s turning the corner. Stats aside, though, the eye test is even more encouraging.
Last year and at the beginning of this season, Riley looked lost in the batter’s box. He was swinging at breaking balls two feet off the plate and late on fastballs right down the middle. But over the last few weeks, he’s producing tough, professional at-bats that Nick Markakis would be proud of, even when he is making outs. If this is the Austin Riley the Braves are going to get for the rest of the year and his career, their offense will reach whole new heights once Ronald Acuña and Ozzie Albies are cleared to return.
Johan Camargo, on the other hand, seems to have completely lost it at the plate. His defense has been fantastic, but that’s not going to be enough for Snitker to keep him in the starting lineup once Albies comes back.
It’s almost hard to believe that Camargo put up a 3.3 fWAR season as the Braves starting third baseman in 2018. He was a doubles machine and tallied 19 homers over just 134 games — good for a 116 WRC+. But that version of Camargo is now a distant memory.
After the Braves replaced him with Josh Donaldson last season, Camargo fell into a nasty slump and was eventually demoted to Gwinnett. He did dominate for the Stripers and started to look like his 2018 self when the Braves called him back up, but a fractured shin ended up costing him the remainder of the season.
At least in 2019, we could contribute Camargo’s struggles to a lack of playing time. A lot of players need everyday at-bats to get in a groove. But this season, he’s had that opportunity, and he’s putting up the worst numbers of his career, posting a slash line of .186/.231/.360 with an ugly K-rate of 34.7%. The last 15 games have been even worse too. Camargo has struck out 24 times in 59 at-bats, and his OBP is just .180 over that span.
It’s still a little premature to declare Riley the full-time starting third baseman. However, the two are undoubtedly trending in opposite directions. And if this continues until Ozzie Albies returns, there’s no reason Camargo should be seeing very many starts at all, let alone at third base.