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Riley takes tips from MVPs to prep for '19

Braves' top offensive prospect worked with Pujols recently
@mlbbowman
February 21, 2019

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- As Austin Riley has established himself as one of baseball’s top prospects, he has had the privilege of being tutored by Terry Pendleton and Chipper Jones. The list of former MVPs who have mentored him grew a couple weeks ago, when Riley spent a few

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- As Austin Riley has established himself as one of baseball’s top prospects, he has had the privilege of being tutored by Terry Pendleton and Chipper Jones. The list of former MVPs who have mentored him grew a couple weeks ago, when Riley spent a few days working out and hitting with Albert Pujols.

“I’ve gotten spoiled, for sure,” Riley said. “Guys back home say, 'You have no excuse now, you’ve heard the best of it.' It’s very cool and I’m very thankful.”

This has the chance to be a memorable year for Riley, who ranks as MLB Pipeline’s third-best prospect at third base and the No. 38 overall prospect. The 21-year-old Mississippi native’s path to the Majors became murkier this winter when the Braves gave Josh Donaldson a one-year deal. But as Riley spends the next few weeks preparing to serve as insurance for Donaldson -- and quite possibly an outfield candidate -- he may give the coaching staff reason to argue he doesn’t need to spend more time in the Minors.

“I’d be real surprised if we get to the end of Spring Training and he isn’t pushing to show us he’s ready,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said. “The big league camp isn’t new to him anymore. He’s a kid who feels like he can play here. He’s a kid who has confidence in his abilities. I’ll be real surprised if he doesn’t have one of those springs where you’re thinking if it was another year, he’d probably make the club.”

Riley’s agency, MVP Sports Group, set up the opportunity for him to spend three days with Pujols in California. The Braves' prospect and the three-time MVP worked out, did hitting drills and shared some time together on the golf course.

“He said a lot of good things,” Riley said. “One thing I took to heart is really using your legs. He said I wasn’t fully tapped into my power because I’m not using my legs 100 percent. He said I wasn’t really sitting down in my legs and really trusting that. He said once I do that, I [will] really start driving balls even further.”

While scouts have marveled at Riley’s raw power, it’s still hard to project exactly what he is capable of doing at the Major League level. The talented prospect tallied 10 more homers over the 201 at-bats he tallied for Double-A Mississippi and Triple-A Gwinnett before a knee sprain sidelined him for a month last year. After returning from the injury, his home run rate slightly improved, as he tallied eight homers over the 189 at-bats he compiled for Gwinnett.

Concerns about Riley’s offensive potential are rooted in the fact that he struck out once every 3.06 at-bats with Gwinnett.

“I’d say he’s probably a half of a season away,” said Pendleton, who currently serves as a special assistant for the Braves. “He hit [19] homers last year and produced some good numbers, but offensively there are some things we can work on. Defensively, he’s solid. He’s smart. He’s going to soak up everything he possibly can get from you.”

Along with getting married and preparing for the possibility that the Braves may choose to get his bat in the lineup as an outfielder at some point this year, Riley dealt with having his name in many of the rumors involving Atlanta’s pursuit of J.T. Realmuto. The Marlins made it clear he would need to be included in any package.

“At first, having grown up a Braves fan, I was thinking, 'Why are they doing that?'” Riley said. “But the more I talked to my agent and got to better understand the game, I realized it’s a good thing when your name is considered one of the top names in a trade rumor.”

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