Braves: Third base competition is heating up down in Florida

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The current battle for who will start at the hot corner in Atlanta this year is heating up as the team has now completed nine games of its Spring Training slate down in Florida, most recently a 9-3 loss to the Red Sox on Sunday. Neither Johan Camargo nor Austin Riley played in the loss, but their stats are fairly similar overall thus far, and both have played in five games apiece.

Camargo holds the advantage, hitting .333 with a .968 OPS, plus a home run and 3 RBI through 12 at-bats, while Riley’s currently maintaining a solid .308 AVG with no extra-base hits but only one strikeout in 13 at-bats. 

Manager Brian Snitker had nothing but positive remarks regarding both Camargo and Riley:

“I think both of them have done really well. I love where Austin’s at. Offensively, I love where he’s at. Camargo … they both are going to make it tough. Hopefully, it is. It’s good (to have a difficult decision). We’ve got a long way to go, and I think they both have been really good.”

One thing that has recently been made more transparent regarding the two — relayed by David O’Brien from The Athletic, in his piece on Sunday — is that Snitker doesn’t plan on keeping BOTH players on the big league roster in 2020, at least to start the season. In other words, whoever loses the battle for the Braves’ third base spot will most likely be sent to Triple-A Gwinnett to get every-day at-bats. That also means it’s very doubtful Riley will spend any time in the outfield in 2020, where he primarily played during his 80 games with the Braves in 2019.

O’Brien opined, after talking with Snitker, that for both young players, a utility role isn’t really an option this coming season. It appears Snitker plans to avoid such a dilemma, given neither Camargo nor Riley have much experience as part-time players. 

“I don’t know that they have the experience yet to be that guy, that versatile guy that we want (for that role). When we had a guy like Omar Infante that was really good at doing that, he had had a few years under his belt. I don’t know that these guys have the years under their belt to fill that role.” – Brian Snitker

Either way, reports coming out of camp have been great, especially pertaining to the latest adjustments at the plate by Riley. The Braves’ hitting coach Kevin Seitzer had plenty to say on Sunday:

“Oh, man, he looks good. He looks really good. Just great at-bats, great timing. And what’s impressed me the most is his strike-zone recognition has just been awesome. He’s been leaving the vast majority of ‘chase sliders’ alone. His timing on the fastball — he’s on the heater. He’s in a good place.”

It appears Riley’s hard work this winter in Dallas with Braves’ minor league hitting coordinator Mike Brumley is beginning to pay off, given he only has one strikeout thus far. Riley finished 2019 with an unsightly 39.4 K% with the Braves, which ultimately was the result of a horrid second-half slump that featured only two home runs and a .171 AVG (compared to 16 HR and a .257 AVG in the first-half). 

In O’Brien’s most-recent write-up (linked above), he noted Seitzer’s comments on the details of Riley’s changes at the plate, which has turned the 22-year-old into a more “quiet hitter.” Per Seitzer:

“He’s eliminated his hip slide. He was really sliding out from under himself, which causes inconsistent path, inconsistent hand speed and then inconsistent timing to go with it. When he was hot, it was great; he got away with it because he was hot. But then when he started to lose it, and then he started to get too conscious of not chasing — that’s when he started missing his fastballs. And that was the beginning of the end. When you’re missing your heaters because you’re worried about chasing sliders, then he’d realize he was late, and he’d have to get back on the fastball, and then he’d start chasing sliders again. Because you just lose hand speed when you slide (hips), and he’s eliminated that. That’s huge.”

Riley’s ability to remain more patient at the plate, while also recognizing and adjusting to breaking pitches — like the slider — will be essential for him in terms of being able to maintain success in the majors… for a FULL season in 2020. Riley’s torrid stretch to start his big league career last year shows that he certainly has what it takes. 

With roughly 20 games left to go down in Florida, both Riley and Camargo still have plenty of time to show off their improvements, though unfortunately, only one man can get the job. Either way, the Braves’ situation at third base is looking better each day. With Riley’s improved plate discipline and Camargo’s excellent numbers, so far, it is anyone’s job. 

Today’s game

The Braves being on TV was short-lived as the team goes off air again on Monday versus the Phillies (though the game will be on 103.7 FM and 1340 AM). Lefty Sean Newcomb will take the mound for his second start of the spring, matching up with Philadelphia’s Zach Eflin. Newcomb last pitched on Wednesday (Feb. 26) against the Mets and ran into some tough luck during the opening inning. However, the Braves’ lefty bounced back in his second and final frame, ending his day with two walks and a strikeout in two innings of work. Today will be the team’s 10th-straight game (not counting Friday’s split-squad game), though Thursday is a scheduled off day. The Braves enter the matchup against the Phils with a 3-6 record this Spring, while the Phillies come to North Port having won of six of nine. 




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