NORTH PORT, Fla. -- Johan Camargo made no bones about it: Last year stung, and it wasn’t going to happen again.
Some months removed from a disappointing 2019 campaign, the switch-hitting utility man reported to Braves camp with a hop in his step and a new determination to lock up the starting third-base role.
“I feel like I’ve always been motivated, you know, but obviously going into this year, I had to change some things up,” he said Wednesday.
Camargo’s most noticeable change was the 18 pounds he lost after working with a nutritionist in the offseason. While the Panama native admitted he’d never be able to “cut out Latin food” completely, he was able to shed the weight by adding vegetables to his meals and watching portions.
“When I saw him at the Chop Fest, and the dedication that he’s put in his body and getting his training, it’s very evident that the kid was very dedicated to getting himself right,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said.
“I applaud him for what he did.”
Spring Training 2019 was a struggle for Camargo, who was not where he wanted to be, physically or mentally, when he reported. The frustration he felt coming into camp after Atlanta signed third baseman Josh Donaldson that November was evident, and it carried over into the season. Camargo said the extra pounds on his frame affected his range of mobility, and the loss of a steady role affected his play.
He struggled most of that season before the Braves optioned him to Triple-A Gwinnett on Aug. 16. He returned Sept. 1 a man on fire, going 5-for-11 with two doubles and two homers in his return tour. On Sept. 11, though, Camargo sustained a right shin fracture after fouling a ball off his leg during a game against the Phillies.
The injury ended his season, but it also served as motivation. The 26-year-old elected to spend the past winter in Florida to practice his English, perfect his physique and polish his outlook.
“Going into this season, obviously, working on my diet and working on the physical aspects of my body and everything, I feel a lot better, and I feel much more prepared to go into the season this year,” he said. “I don’t know how to really put into words how great I feel, but it’s … probably the best I’ve felt in a long time. I’m very happy where I’m at right now, physically.”
His forecast appears to have changed for the better as well. Donaldson is gone, leaving Camargo as the supposed favorite at the hot corner in 2020, though Snitker said Tuesday that Camargo and Austin Riley will alternate starts there this spring.
While Riley showcased his power in 2019 with 14 homers in his first 161 career at-bats, his offensive production fizzled afterward, and he hit just .162 in the following 140. Atlanta will likely give Riley some more time to develop and revisit him as an option at some point this season.
Camargo, in turn, will attempt to recapture the magic from 2018, when he slashed .279/.346/.465 with 17 home runs, 24 doubles and 63 RBIs after becoming Atlanta’s starting third baseman on May 20. As far as he’s concerned, going forward, the only competition he faces is against himself.
And he’s ready to succeed once again in 2020.
“I’ve always appreciated Austin; he’s a great guy,” Camargo said of Riley, whose locker is next to his in Braves camp. “But as far as competition is concerned, I don’t look at it that way. I think we both support each other, and I think … both of our mentalities, we’re both going for it.”
“I know, obviously, opportunities have presented themselves,” he added. “It’s up to me and the rest of us to take advantage of them.”