Braves set to call up top prospect Austin Riley
The Atlanta Braves are making a call that seemed to become more likely by the day.
Wednesday was that day for Austin Riley.
Atlanta announced its top hitting prospect will make his major league debut. Mark Bowman of MLB.com reported early Wednesday morning that the Braves were summoning Riley to replace the Ender Inciarte, who was placed on the injured list with a lumbar strain. The club previously opened a spot on the 40-man roster when reliever Jerry Blevins was designated for assignment on Tuesday.
Riley, 22, has torched the Triple-A International League with a hot streak that picked up considerable steam this month. He is slashing .299/.377/.681 and leading the league with 15 homers, 39 RBI, 32 runs scored, 25 extra-base hits and 98 total bases through 37 games.
His last two weeks has been even more statistically absurd.
Riley belted 10 homers and produced a 1.478 OPS (on-base plus slugging percentage) while driving in 23 runs in his 50 at-bats this month. He's drawing walks and striking out less this season as well, another step in his development from raw slugger to more polished hitter. Given that he is setting career highs across the board and is just five homers away from matching his career-best total, it appeared Riley had little, if anything, left to prove at the Triple-A level.
What does this mean for the Braves outfield?
With Inciarte on the shelf, Atlanta will slide Ronald Acuña Jr. to center field for the time being, opening up left field for Riley. Though he has just four starts at the position in his career, the Braves feel Riley is up to the challenge of adequately handling the outfield. While Atlanta values defense. this is a move designed to get Riley's bat the lineup more than anything else.
The positional switch decision may come as a mild surprise to some, considering Riley, primarily a third baseman, had never played left field in a regular season game prior to making a handful of starts there over the past week with the Stripers. The Braves had him start working in the outfield back in the spring, anticipating that this could be his quickest path to the majors. All-Star third baseman Josh Donaldson is on a one-year contract, leaving open the possibility that Riley is very likely Atlanta's third baseman of the future. He will see time at the hot corner when Donaldson is out of the lineup.
Of course, Riley's mission will be to prove with the bat and, to a lesser extent the glove, that he belongs in the big leagues. The path of destruction he waged against minor league pitching showed he was ready for this opportunity.
Now, Riley will have a new set of challenges as he makes the jump to the majors.
Getting there is one thing, staying is another.