Who's on first? Braves' hot 3B prospect

Team tests Austin Riley across the diamond in a play for versatility

March 10th, 2019

JUPITER, Fla. -- Austin Riley is the Braves' third baseman of the future. But Sunday, the team's No. 5 rated prospect, according to MLB Pipeline, made his first start at first base.

"As the game went on and guys put some balls in play, I got more comfortable," Riley said of playing on the other side of the diamond.

"Overall, it was fun," said Riley, who said the additional defensive abilities can only help his career. "I think it's a plus. Being more versatile means getting more chances to help the big league club."

With the trend for bigger bullpens, especially in the National League, and the subsequent smaller benches, positional flexibility is becoming a plus.

Riley's third spring with the Braves has been his best, although in Sunday's 5-2 loss to the Marlins he went 0-for-3 and was hit by a pitch in his final at-bat. Still, Riley -- the Marlins' target on the Braves when the two teams talked about a trade for J.T. Realmuto -- is hitting .250 for this spring (7-for-28) in 11 games.

"As far as putting balls in play, squaring balls up, I thought my at-bats have been really good," Riley said.

Over the course of four Minor League seasons, Riley has compiled a .282 batting average. He hit 20 homers twice and belted 19 last season with three different teams. He hit 12 of those with Triple-A Gwinnett in 291 at-bats.

But the big swinger also struck out 129 times in 408 official at-bats last season. He struck out in five of his first six at-bats this spring but did not strike out again until 23 at-bats later, swinging through a 92-mph fastball from Marlins starter Sandy Alcantara Sunday.

Cutting down on strikeouts has been a focus for Riley this spring, and a small adjustment during his work with hitting coach Kevin Seitzer has helped limit the punch-outs.

"He's really shortened me up a lot," Riley said. "I've had an extra little pushback swing, so it's just keeping that front elbow in a little bit."

Roster moves

The Braves made 10 roster moves. Left-handed pitcher Luiz Gohara, along with right-handers Patrick Weigel and Huascar Ynoa were optioned to Triple-A Gwinnett. Righty Ian Anderson, the Braves' No. 3 prospect, according to MLB Pipeline, and lefties Kyle Muller and Joey Wentz were sent to Minor League camp along with catchers William Contreras and Jonathan Morales, and outfielders Greyson Jenista and Drew Waters.

The Braves now have 48 players in camp after opening with 60.

Webb takes liner off left arm

Reliever Jacob Webb took a line drive off the bat of the Marlins' Yadiel Rivera to the lower left arm in the seventh inning and exited the game. Rivera was the first batter Webb faced. Webb left the game for precautionary measures and will be evaluated.

Weiss manages

Walt Weiss assumed managerial duties for the Braves on Sunday. Braves manager Brian Snitker made the trip to Jupiter but then flew home from West Palm Beach for a personal family matter.

Up next

The Braves return to Champion Stadium on Monday for a 1:05 p.m. ET game with the Pirates. Right-hander Kyle Wright is scheduled to make his third spring start. Wright has thrown five scoreless innings this spring with six strikeouts. He will be opposed by Pirates right-hander Nick Kingham.