Written by: John Stewart (@jonance)
Follow us on Twitter! @Prospects365
Many moons ago, an 8-year-old version of myself happened to flip over to PBS one evening as I watched television. Big Bird and Oscar the Grouch were nowhere to be found, but instead there was a guy I had never seen before absolutely shredding the blues in front of a small, intimate audience on a show called Austin City Limits. That ‘guy’ just happened to be Stevie Ray Vaughan. From that day forward, I tuned in to as many episodes of the show as I could and was introduced to such luminaries as BB King, Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings and many more. Now in my forties, I continue to tune in to watch classic artists as well as the new kids on the scene. It never disappoints.
Speaking of never disappointing, Austin Riley has proven to be one of the better talents in Minor League Baseball early this season. It feels like he’s been around forever, but Riley is just 22-years-old; despite having very productive performances the past few season, recent adjustments to shorten his swing ($) have led to some eye-popping numbers so far in 2019. At his current pace, the sky is the only limit for Riley as a big league debut appears on the horizon.
So far, Riley has posted a career-best strikeout rate (19.6%) and walk rate (11.1%). Not only have the alterations to his swing not diminished his power, but the Braves prospect has 14 home runs in only 153 plate appearances (his current .382 ISO would also be a new personal best). Riley hasn’t had any splits issues throughout his career, and he is actually doing most of his damage against righties this season with a ridiculous .340 AVG and 1.164 OPS. Oh… and he’s doing all of this as one of the youngest players in the International League.
While it isn’t a tangible tool, give a listen to the sound the ball makes off of his bat in this opposite field blast:
It’s not as if Riley has been or is an overlooked prospect. He was regularly in the top-50 of the most respected prospect lists this preseason including the #36 spot right here in Ray’s top-200. But with Johan Camargo in tow and Josh Donaldson inking with the Braves in free agency, Riley’s 2019 big league outlook appeared spotty at best. However, the competing Braves have obviously taken notice of Riley’s incredible start, newfound swing and improved approach at the plate. After working there this spring, the 22-year-old made the first outfield start of his career on May 8th and is clearly nipping at the heels of the struggling Ender Inciarte. Riley is clearly ready to take a shot at MLB pitching, and the Braves could easily slide Acuña Jr. over to center field to open up left field for their burgeoning slugger.
In other words, this is not a drill. If you are in a redraft league and have a spot on your bench, it is worth either adding Riley right now or monitoring the situation closely in hopes of snagging him once he’s officially promoted. It’s likely he’s already rostered in dynasty and keeper leagues, but it would behoove you to at least reach out to his owner to see what kind of return they might be after in a hypothetical trade.
While the sample size is still a bit small this season, whenever I read about swing adjustments and see the intended results come to fruition before our eyes, I tend to think they are sustainable. For Riley, this could potentially mean he becomes a player who can hit for a better average than initially expected while maintaining plus in-game power that can result in 30-40 bombs perennially. At his best, it looks like Riley will have the (long-term) chance to be a top-10 fantasy third baseman with top-5 potential if he can maintain the success that appears to be fueled by those adjustments. In the near future, he’s a player who could carry 3B/OF eligibility in your league, which is a subtle way to increase his stock all the more. It’s quite possible that your last chance to acquire Riley without giving up the moon and the stars is right now.
Follow P365 staff writer John Stewart on Twitter! @jonance
Follow us on Twitter! @Prospects365