The Braves’ third-base battle between Johan Camargo and Austin Riley has been one of the best storylines in baseball this Spring Training, with both players responding exceptionally well to an opportunity to become the full-time starter.
Camargo can be considered somewhat of an incumbent, as he saw everyday at-bats at third base before the Braves signed Josh Donaldson, who is about as good as it gets on a one-year deal. This was not a reflection of Camargo’s 2018 performance, as he had finally established himself as a more than reliable starter that season. In just 134 games as a 24-year-old, Camargo hit .272 with 19 homers and 76 RBI — good for a .806 OPS and a 3.7 bWAR.
After Donaldson was signed, the thinking was that Camargo would be used as a super-utility player. However, he showed up out of shape, and Snitker did not utilize him in this way. While ultimately Camargo played a plethora of positions, he did not see enough at-bats to be effective, resulting in a demotion to Gwinnett, where he found his footing once again. Camargo was even able to translate this back to the big leagues upon being called back up for a short period, but unfortunately, was soon lost for the season after fracturing his shin with a foul ball.
It was a forgetful 2019, to say the least for Camargo, but he showed up in much better shape this spring and is looking primed to make an impact, batting 8-for-26 in exhibition play with a homer and six RBI.
On the flip side, there is the powerful youngster Austin Riley looking to lockdown the hot corner as well. Last year’s top prospect set the world on fire in AAA, but that was nothing compared to the damage he did with Atlanta when they called him up. In 49 games before the All-Star Break, Riley hit 16 homers in just 187 at-bats, taking the Braves’ offense to unprecedented levels in recent memory. Unfortunately, the second half of the season was not nearly so kind to him, as he hit .161 with just two home runs and was ultimately left off the team’s playoff roster.
With that being said, there is a trend of Riley having tremendous success in the past repeating levels, and he is looking excellent in Spring Training. Back at his natural position of third base after spending most of his big league time in the outfield, Riley has flashed a reliable glove and hit 9-for-27 with two homers and four RBI.
Brian Snitker has been so impressed with both candidates that this decision may come down to the final day of Spring Training:
more Snitker on #Braves' 3B battle: "…It’s going to be tough; that’s gonna be a good thing. These guys came to camp ready to go, and they’ve done just that – they’ve both played very well. And all things being equal, one guy’s not going to be real happy with the decision.”
— David O'Brien (@DOBrienATL) March 10, 2020
When Snitker mentions “one guy’s not going to be real happy with the decision” it likely means that whoever does not win the job will be sent down to AAA to receive everyday at-bats, which has been the belief all spring long.
While Spring Training may not mean a ton for many of these players, these last two weeks could not be more critical to Riley and Camargo. If things ended today, I would likely give Camargo the nod over Riley due to the latter’s struggles late in the season, and the former having a proven full season of being a starter under his belt. It also does not hurt to give Riley a bit more time in AAA, ensuring that he has worked out his kinks, though the mechanical adjustments he made this offseason have paid off thus far. For what it is worth, Gabe Burns of the AJC seems to think Camargo is the favorite:
Probably soon-to-be every-day third baseman (again) Johan Camargo just ripped a double to right that scored Ozzie Albies. His encouraging spring continues.
— Gabe Burns (@GabeBurnsAJC) March 10, 2020
With that being said, I do not believe it will take Riley long to win the third base job from out under him, and potentially never look back. Both of these players are capable of being everyday third basemen, but to me, Riley is the future at the position. By mid-summer, it should be his job.