The coronavirus tests are coming in, and so far, four Braves have tested positive, including Freddie Freeman, who has long been the Braves’ best player. On top of that, two veterans that were poised to be key contributors have already decided to sit out the season — Felix Hernandez, who was competing for the final rotation spot, and Nick Markakis, who was the Braves starting right fielder for the past five seasons and would have been battling for significant playing time once again.
That’s two positions that now have substantially less competition. However, who might take over for Freddie Freeman if he is forced to miss regular-season time? The Braves don’t have an obvious replacement, but Brian Snitker mentioned a few in-house options that can fill the void.
Riley has played first base several times during Spring Training, and the Braves have been impressed with his ability to man the position if need be. However, Riley also is in a heated battle for the third base job with Johan Camargo, and neither has exactly proven themselves to be reliable everyday options.
Camargo was miserable for the most part in 2019, resulting in a -0.6 bWAR and a demotion to AAA. Once he returned from Gwinnett, he did start to show flashes of the 3.0+ WAR player he was as a full-time starter in 2018. However, a fractured shin prematurely ended his season, and Camargo still has a ton to prove if he wants to play every day again.
Riley was a machine for his first month in the bigs last year as a rookie, but his incredible slump to end the year has been well-documented (I’m not even going to get into the numbers). However, that’s not all that uncommon for a first-year player that garnered so much attention from his early-season success. Still, he’s going to need to prove to the organization that his plate discipline has improved significantly.
Yes, like Riley, Camargo can also play first base. However, if the Braves decide to play him at first, it’s likely because they don’t trust Riley to play every day. Camargo is a much better option with the glove, so he’s more of a candidate at the hot corner if Riley can prove his bat belongs in the everyday lineup.
This one just got a lot more interesting with Nick Markakis announcing today that he is opting out of the 2020 season, which will make it difficult for Brian Snitker to keep Adam Duvall out of the lineup anyways, whether it is in the outfield or as the DH. However, the former All-Star does have experience playing first base for the Reds. Perhaps allowing him to play some first base early on in the season would give top prospect, Cristian Pache, an opportunity to make his major league debut.
Alonso was a longshot to make the Opening Day roster, but with Markakis opting out, and Freddie Freeman possibly not available at the beginning of the season, Alonso can make a case for himself during Spring Training 2.0. The journeyman has ten years of MLB experience with a .259 career average and 100 homers, but he most recently hit below the Mendoza line last year in 121 games split between the White Sox and Rockies. Alonso was also only able to record one measly hit in 25 at-bats before Spring Training 1.0 was stopped in mid-March. He will have to stand out over the next month to make the Opening Day roster.
O’Brien may not have the resumé that a player like Alonso does, but he flashed his power in Spring Training 1.0, smacking four home runs in 31 at-bats. However, he only had two other hits, giving him a .194 average. O’Brien’s played some first base in his career, but it would take a lot for the Braves to rely on him during the regular season.