Austin Riley Loses Weight, Adds Range
Spring training helped identify the progress of several potential cornerstone players in the organization, yet no one increased his stock more than third baseman Austin Riley.
Riley has chiseled his 6-foot-3 frame over the past 18 months, making him a better defender. His arm strength remains among the best in the organization, and his hands are soft enough to remain on the infield. With his footwork improving, the 21-year-old is on the fast track to Atlanta.
"Before last year I played around 235 (pounds) or so,” said the 2015 supplemental first-round pick from high school in Southaven, Miss. "I just thought that being at third base, which is a reaction position, if I dropped down to 225, I might be able to move better. I did, and my body felt great. It added (at least) a half-step to my game.”
A two-way standout in high school, Riley paced Braves farmhands with 20 homers at low Class A Rome in 2016. Last year resulted in another 20 bombs, and he batted .275/.339/.446 in 129 games while spending the second half at Double-A Mississippi.
The Mississippi native even responded to playing close to home by hitting .315 with eight homers in 48 home games. While some players get distracted during such rare opportunities, Riley’s experience was just the opposite.
"I had friends and family at the ballpark every night,” Riley said. "It was cool to share that experience and spend time with them. I stayed with my cousin’s grandparents, and I was able to relax and get away from everything. That opportunity helped me perform well.”
"His character is off the charts,” assistant farm director Jonathan Schuerholz said. "Anything he accomplishes does not surprise me. He has a good feel for hitting and the potential to be that righthanded power bat we haven’t had in our system in a long time.”
Braves View Austin Riley As Vital To Future
Riley won rookie of the month honors in May but struggled to produce consistently afterward.
• Even with the presence of Ronald Acuna, Cristian Pache is considered the best defensive center fielder in the organization. The Braves are working with Pache on his launch angle to increase his power output. He has zero pro homers.
• Director of player development Dave Trembley said Kolby Allard’s improved changeup will be a difference maker. "It’s going to be a big part of his arsenal. We all know he has a real good breaking ball, but his changeup is going to be the equalizer for him.”