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Braves phenom Riley continues historic start

Touted prospect hits eighth homer in 16 games; 'The kid is really good'
@mlbbowman
June 1, 2019

ATLANTA -- Situated between Mike Soroka and Jacob Webb, Austin Riley sat at his locker early Saturday afternoon and marveled at their ability to deal with the regular soreness a pitcher feels after most outings. Meanwhile, the baseball world has spent the past few weeks marveling at the instant impact

ATLANTA -- Situated between Mike Soroka and Jacob Webb, Austin Riley sat at his locker early Saturday afternoon and marveled at their ability to deal with the regular soreness a pitcher feels after most outings.

Meanwhile, the baseball world has spent the past few weeks marveling at the instant impact made by Riley, who displayed more of his impressive power with the decisive two-run home run hit in Saturday afternoon’s 10-5 win over the Tigers. The Braves third baseman’s eight home runs stand as the most hit by any player in franchise history through the first 16 games of a career.

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“It’s fun when you see this, especially with a guy you drafted and developed,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said. “He comes up and you pull for him because he’s such an outstanding young man who is very talented. When they come up here and do well, it makes you feel really good.”

Four years after the Braves took him in the first round (41st overall) of the 2015 MLB Draft and a little less than three weeks into his promising Major League career, Riley stands as a primary reason the Braves have maintained a strong bid to repeat as National League East champs.

Riley joins Rhys Hoskins , Carlos Delgado and Trevor Story as the only players to hit at least eight homers through the first 16 games of a career. Hoskins was the only member of this quartet to tally nine home runs within the span.

“The kid is really good,” Braves shortstop Dansby Swanson said. “He knows what he’s doing. He’s got a clear plan every time he’s up there. One of my favorite things about him is it’s really easy to talk about his at-bats. We’ve been able to talk to each other about at-bats, him helping me and me trying to help him about how the stuff is moving and what he sees and what he doesn’t see.”

As Riley has tallied eight homers through the first 63 at-bats of his career, he’s shown his ability to drive balls to all fields with authority. His two-run, sixth-inning homer off Daniel Norris on Saturday was an opposite-field shot that had a 108.6 mph exit velocity -- the fourth-hardest opposite-field homer hit by a Brave since Statcast began tracking this data in 2015.

Riley has batted .348 and constructed a 1.150 OPS thus far. He admits he’s been somewhat bothered by the fact he’s struck out 23 times, or once every 2.7 at-bats. But those whiffs have certainly been well compensated as he has homered once every 7.9 at-bats.

“It’s gone as well as I could have wanted it to,” Riley said. “If there is one thing I could pick at it, it’s the strikeouts. I think that’s evident. But overall, I can’t complain.”

Freddie Freeman (14), Ronald Acuna Jr. (11) and Swanson (11) are the only Braves who have tallied more home runs than Riley, who debuted on May 15. This power surge has provided indication why MLB Pipeline ranks Riley as the game’s 34th-best prospect and the third-best third base prospect behind only Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Nick Senzel.

“The consistency is incredible. I’ve seen tweets on Twitter saying he snapped his four at-bat homerless streak and things like that,” Soroka said. “It’s a lot of fun. I’ve seen him go on tears all the way from [Rookie-level] Danville on up. It’s not surprising to see him go on a tear, and it’s awesome to see him do it day in and day out.”

Linked since they were both taken by the Braves in the first round of the 2015 Draft, Soroka and Riley have developed a strong friendship. The two were together on Thursday, when Riley enjoyed the best round of golf of his life, shooting a 77 at suburban Atlanta’s TPC Sugarloaf.

Now they are building strong NL Rookie of the Year Award resumes together and savoring life at the big league level. Before allowing three earned runs over 6 2/3 innings Saturday, Soroka was bidding to become the first pitcher of the live-ball era (since 1920) to allow one earned run or fewer over nine consecutives starts to begin a season.

“He’s helped me all the way through,” Riley said. “He’s kind of given me that confidence. When things weren’t going well, he was always there to give me that pat on the back when I needed it. It means a lot to come here and be able to talk and and watch things happen with him.”

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