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Riley almost misses call to big leagues, literally

Opportunity knocks with Inciarte (lumbar strain) going on IL
@mlbbowman
May 15, 2019

ATLANTA -- As Braves fans anxiously wondered whether Ender Inciarte’s early exit from Tuesday’s game would lead to Austin Riley gaining a much-anticipated promotion, Triple-A Gwinnett manager Damon Berryhill was having trouble getting in touch with the highly regarded prospect. “I’m thinking he must have my old [cell] number,” Riley

ATLANTA -- As Braves fans anxiously wondered whether Ender Inciarte’s early exit from Tuesday’s game would lead to Austin Riley gaining a much-anticipated promotion, Triple-A Gwinnett manager Damon Berryhill was having trouble getting in touch with the highly regarded prospect.

“I’m thinking he must have my old [cell] number,” Riley said.

Berryhill had been instructed to inform Riley he was being called to the Majors. But he was unable to deliver the message until he called pitcher Kolby Allard, who was hanging with Riley in pitcher Bryse Wilson’s room at the team hotel in Buffalo, N.Y.

“Since I started playing T-ball, this has been my one love,” Riley said. “To finally be here, I’m going to try to take it in as much as I can.”

After spending the past three weeks hitting approximately a mile’s worth of home runs, Riley made the 700-mile-plus flight from Buffalo to Atlanta on Wednesday morning and made his Major League debut a few hours later.

Riley played left field and batted sixth Wednesday night against the Cardinals.

MLB Pipeline ranks Riley as the No. 4 prospect in Atlanta’s organization and baseball’s No. 34 prospect. Toronto’s Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Cincinnati’s Nick Senzel are the only players ranked as a better third base prospect.

Now that he has arrived, Riley can continue to plan to play on an everyday basis. He’ll be used primarily as a left fielder, but he’ll occasionally spell Josh Donaldson at third base and possibly handle the other corner infield spot when Freddie Freeman chooses to rest.

With Inciarte now on the injured list with a lumbar strain, the Braves’ defense will be weakened. Ronald Acuna Jr. has created some concerns while playing center field, and Riley had never played the outfield on a regular basis until this past week, during which he made four starts as Gwinnett’s left fielder.

“I don’t expect him to go out there and win a Gold Glove in left field,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said. “We’ll deepen him up enough to where maybe the angles aren’t that big of a deal. He’s kind of what they used to look like. He’s probably better defensively than most.”

Had the Braves opted to promote former All-Star and Gold Glove Award winner Adam Duvall, they might have lessened their defensive concerns. But at the same time, they certainly wouldn’t have gained the offensive potential possessed by Riley, who hit .391 (27-for-69) with 13 home runs and a 1.518 OPS over his final 18 games for Gwinnett. He homered 10 times through 50 at-bats this month.

As he spent some time this winter working out and hitting with Albert Pujols, Riley heard the three-time National League MVP preach about the importance of maximizing the value his legs provide to his swing. Over the past few weeks, the young phenom has gained a better understanding of how to apply this advice.

“I think I was using them in the wrong way,” Riley said. “I think I was trying to create my power, instead of getting on plane and letting everything else take care of itself. I’ve gotten my hands in sync with my lower body. The more fluid you are with everything, the more power you’re going to have.”

Other roster moves
Atlanta also recalled right-hander Touki Toussaint from Gwinnett and designated lefty Jesse Biddle for assignment.

When a player's contract is designated for assignment -- often abbreviated "DFA" -- that player is immediately removed from his club's 40-man roster, and 25-man roster if he was on that as well. Within seven days of the transaction (it was previously 10 days), the player must either be traded, released or placed on irrevocable outright waivers.

Mark Bowman has covered the Braves for MLB.com since 2001.