One of the bigger storylines of the spring for the Atlanta Braves will be their situation at third base. Josh Donaldson’s departure to Minnesota left the Braves with some uncertainty at the hot corner. Johan Camargo was excellent in 2018 but struggled last season. Austin Riley burst on the scene after his debut but faltered down the stretch. Will that combination be enough to get the job done for Atlanta in 2020 or will Alex Anthopoulos be forced to look outside the organization for more help?
Are you satisfied with the Braves’ third base situation heading into the spring?
Kris Willis: I was really hoping to have Josh Donaldson back but once the bidding elevated to four years the writing was on the wall. Given the addition of Marcell Ozuna, I think the Braves are smart to see what they have in Austin Riley. I fully expect Camargo to be at third on Opening Day but at some point Riley will get an opportunity to win the job if they don’t pull a big trade first.
Scott Coleman: No, but I’m hopeful Camargo and/or Riley can at least be serviceable over there. I don’t blame Camargo for being a bit disgruntled last winter and he looked like who he used to be in his (very brief) stint before injuring his shin. I don’t have a ton of confidence in Riley but maybe he figures things out a bit in his sophomore campaign.
Eric Cole: I am fine with it even though there is a lot of risk there. I think people took a very short stretch of Riley’s overall body of work which included a knee injury and gave up on him too quickly. He is really, really good and has historically made adjustments well. Camargo, when he is actually in shape, is no slouch either when he is on so between the two, I see real upside over there even if I freely admit that it is more unsettled than I would prefer.
Ivan: Not in a vacuum, but it’s hard to be too upset about it when the roster is how it is overall. I do think that satisfaction here is more of an ongoing thing than a point-in-time thing. Both Riley and Camargo had specific, identifiable problems last year — if one (or both) of them continue to get the reins while evidencing that they haven’t fixed these problems, that’ll be a bigger issue and challenge than speculatively giving them a chance and a small bucket of PAs to use up. In short, this is fine. Riley spending more than a month with a continued inability to damage fastballs or Camargo reprising his swing-at-everything 2019 in which his contact quality also fell apart, and well, blech.
Daniel H-K: I’m not over the moon about it, but the upside is pretty clear and I’m probably more confident than most. I feel really good about Camargo this season and I think he has a real chance to put up a season like his 2018 season, which would be 3-4 WAR over a full season. We’ve seen in the past two seasons that when he is only sporadically playing and getting real at-bats, he tends to struggle, so I think if he’s playing every day he can fix timing and have a really good year. I’m less bullish on Austin Riley, because the end of last season was just really ugly, but he’s a talented guy and he might be able to put it together this season, but frankly I think he might have a hard time finding playing time if Camargo does what I think he can do.
AB: Yes and no, but mostly no. We did not want to pursue Donaldson at a dead money price, but I understand it. I could see them using it when their core is getting older and the window is closing. But maybe it’s not best to see the Braves push all their chips to the center of the table just yet. So I’m ok with their approach at third.
We seem to be hoping that Austin Riley can return to form. When he is hot, he is terrific. When not, he is a guy with a nearly seven to one strikeout to walk ratio. I love Johan Camargo, but I don’t think he can hit well enough to stick at third. I think he can produce at a 90-100 wRC+ rate, but that is not what you need at third base. He seems to be a great fit in a super-utility role, and hopefully his defense can start to show at middle infield when Albies needs a rest or when Swanson is injured. But third base might be a position in which the Braves will likely be in the bottom half of the league.
Shawn Coleman: Absolutely not. My emphasis is not based on the feeling that Carmargo and Riley cannot get the job done. In fact, with everything considered, if one of the two could take the job and produce immediately, it would be an ideal and wonderful development for the Braves. However, Atlanta brought in Donaldson last year when they had less of a need for an upgrade than they do this year. They made that move because it was the most sensible way to “move the needle” and take the Braves to the next level as a contender. For the most part, that gamble paid off. However, the Braves again did reach not their desired destination. Now, with third base being a bigger question mark and the Braves theoretically having more reason than ever to go for it, acquiring a difference maker for the infield and lineup is a move that should be made.
Anthony Traurig: No. Third base is the Braves’ most glaring weakness. Sure, Riley and/or Camargo could rebound and combine for a 3-WAR season this year. But they could also continue to struggle and be replacement-level or worse (they combined for -0.3 fWAR in 2019). Short of having telepathy, it’s anyone’s guess as to how they will do in 2020. It feels like an unnecessary gamble for a team that added significantly to its payroll and is trying to win a World Series. I still hold out hope, though, that the Braves might upgrade before Opening Day, especially given Anthopoulos’s recent comments. Can you imagine this roster if Kris Bryant were added?
Cory McCartney: As I wrote in last week’s Starting Nine, ZiPS projections have Austin Riley at 1.9 fWAR and Johan Camargo at 1.5, which combined puts them somewhat in the same neighborhood as Josh Donaldson (4.9). ZiPS also has the young Atlanta players teaming for 43 homers to 36 by Donaldson. So there may not be a major drop off at the plate, and having that kind of power along with Marcell Ozuna hitting behind Freddie Freeman could make this an even deeper lineup that 2019, when Atlanta trailed only the Dodgers among NL teams with a 26.9 fWAR. It’s long been said that Camargo is the best infielder defender in the system, which he put that on display in 2018 when his 1.1 dWAR trailed only Nolan Arenado among all third baseman. Getting Riley back to his natural defensive position should only benefit him aswell. The duo lacks the starpower that Donaldson has even if there is a dropoff, it won’t be by much.
Brent Blackwell: While I’m less than ecstatic, am I satisfied? Yes. ZiPS projects the Riley/Camargo duo for around 2 WAR (they project both to add extra value elsewhere), which is fine. It may not be All-Star production, but the odds are good Atlanta can find some level of competence at the hot corner. It will be a situation to monitor, though. Riley’s bat is capable of big things but has shown that it can go Arctic cold in a hurry. And even if I’m willing to give Camargo’s offensive flatlining in 2019 a pass, his defense at third took a significant step backward. While I do think Atlanta can cobble together a fine season at third, one last big upgrade wouldn’t surprise me in the least. The 40-man roster is filled with prospects who are now major league ready, and there’s just not room or time for their formative MLB seasons to all be in Atlanta. Even after a wildly active offseason, that still makes Atlanta primed for one more big move, if they find one to their liking, and third would be a natural position for such a move to address.
Demetrius Bell: It’s definitely concerning! Even as a person who still has a lot of faith in Austin Riley being able to improve and establish himself as a good hitter at the major league level, it’s still scary to think that the Braves are basically leaving their hopes at third base in the hands of two guys who didn’t exactly tear it up at the plate for the majority of the 2019 season. I’m in the same boat as the other guys in that the ZiPS projections helped to calm my nerves about the third base situation, but this still isn’t an ideal situation in any way.
This is why I still think it would be huge for this team if they were able to swing a deal for one of the elite third basemen who have been rumored to be available for the entire offseason. With that being said, I’m increasingly convinced that we aren’t going to see anything serious with either Arenado or Bryant until the trade deadline and we’re talking about the spring, so there’s that. As far as Riley and Camargo are concerned, hopefully they can live up to their projections since that would still be enough to pull their fair share of weight in this lineup. If not, then we have a clear candidate for what could be an anchor to drag down the offense.
Dillon Cloud: Not especially, given that Atlanta has goals that extend well beyond just developing young talent. Austin Riley and Johan Camargo could obviously fill in admirably this season, and both may have bright futures, but the variability in their production casts a lot of doubt for a team in the Braves’ position. Adding a player like Arenado or Bryant would erase those doubts, though the cost may outweigh the gains, especially if the Braves truly believe in Riley and Camargo. Having two high-ceiling options to begin the season is certainly not a death sentence, and Atlanta has the prospect capital to make in-season additions if necessary. Third base is a wait-and-see situation at the moment.
Wayne Cavadi: As the biggest Austin Riley fan on the planet, I’m excited.