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Riley makes Pipeline's Top 3B Prospects list

20-year-old has chance to be legitimate power threat, lands at No. 6
MLB.com @mlbbowman

ATLANTA -- As some other interested clubs seemed to be leaning toward drafting Austin Riley as a pitcher, Braves director of scouting Brian Bridges sent special assistant Roy Clark to a tournament in LaGrange (Ga.) and told him not to report back until he saw the big Mississippi prep star hit and pitch over the entirety of the weekend event.

"When Roy called, he said, '(Riley was) at 88-92 (mph) with his fastball, but,'" Bridges said. "I said, you don't need to say any more, I'm right there with you."

ATLANTA -- As some other interested clubs seemed to be leaning toward drafting Austin Riley as a pitcher, Braves director of scouting Brian Bridges sent special assistant Roy Clark to a tournament in LaGrange (Ga.) and told him not to report back until he saw the big Mississippi prep star hit and pitch over the entirety of the weekend event.

"When Roy called, he said, '(Riley was) at 88-92 (mph) with his fastball, but,'" Bridges said. "I said, you don't need to say any more, I'm right there with you."

:: Top 10 Prospects by Position ::

Three years after projecting Riley's optimal value would come via the bat, the Braves are continuing to reap the benefits of drafting Riley, who is ranked sixth on MLB Pipeline's latest list of baseball's top third base prospects.

Taken in the first round (41st overall) of the 2015 Draft, Riley has established himself as one of the most intriguing prospects within Atlanta's talent-rich system. The physically imposing 20-year-old prospect has quieted concerns about his defensive potential and provided indication he has the potential to be a legit power threat at the Major League level.

As Riley hit .273 with 20 homers and a .803 OPS over 129 games for Class A Rome in 2016, he benefited from a second-half surge that caught the attention of Chipper Jones, who enjoyed the chance to spend some time with the young third baseman during last year's Spring Training.

"I looked at his first-half numbers and thought, 'He's better than that,'" Jones said. "Then you saw the second-half numbers and it was obvious something clicked. ... Austin Riley could be Freddie Freeman's protection in the lineup within the next two to three years. That's what we're shooting for."

After having a chance to talk about his approach and the mental aspect of hitting, Riley once again finished strong last season. He continued to acquaint himself with breaking balls and changeups as he hit .252 with 12 homers and a .718 OPS over 81 games for Class A Advanced Florida. But when challenged with a mid-season promotion, he hit .315 with eight home runs and a .900 OPS over 48 games with Double-A Mississippi.

The Braves will determine whether Riley will begin this upcoming season with Mississippi or Triple-A Gwinnett. But the club's decision makers are well aware of the possibility he could be ready for the Majors at some point during the 2019 season.

Riley's progress this year will influence how aggressively the Braves might pursue Manny Machado and Josh Donaldson once they become free agents after this season.

MLB Pipeline ranks the Blue Jays' Vladimir Guerrero Jr. as its top third base prospect. The next four players on this list are Nick Senzel (Reds), Miguel Andujar (Yankees), suburban Atlanta product Michael Chavis (Red Sox) and Christian Arroyo (Rays).

Following Riley on the second half of this Top 10 list are Ryan Mountcastle (Orioles), Colton Welker (Rockies), Brian Anderson (Marlins) and Jake Burger (White Sox).

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

Atlanta Braves