When spring training opens later this week for the Atlanta Braves, one of the question marks facing the team is what should they expect from third baseman Austin Riley. By all accounts, Riley will enter the spring with a firm grip on the third base job, but that hasn’t prevented fans from dreaming of an upgrade. Although his numbers last year ended up pretty similar to his 2019 rookie year, he did make some progress in a number of areas and there are some reasons for optimism. Riley is among 10 hitters who could break out this season according to MLB.com’s Andrew Simon.
Riley chased less and made contact more. His walk rate ticked up. And his strikeout rate (36.4% as a rookie) dropped 12.6 percentage points — the third-largest decrease of anyone with at least 100 PA in both seasons.
That’s a huge development, because when Riley puts the bat on the ball, great things can happen. His 12.0% career barrel rate is excellent. Riley has homered on 8.4% of his career batted balls, on par with Bryce Harper, Juan Soto and teammate Marcell Ozuna since 2019. He can crush the ball 470-plus feet. The caveat here is that Riley’s quality-of-contact numbers all dropped last year, perhaps as a sacrifice to his increased contact. But Riley is just 23, with limited experience, and after a slow start in 2020, he slashed .281/.348/.461 in his final 33 games. This could be the year it all comes together.
There is no doubt that this is a big season for Riley who needs to show that he can be the team’s longterm answer at third base. If he struggles, the Braves don’t really have an in house option to replace him and would likely be forced to look outside the organization if they determined an upgrade was needed.
Dansby Swanson lost his arbitration case with the Braves and will make $6 million for the 2021 season. That is still a significant raise over the $3.1 million pre-pandemic salary that he was slated to make in 2020 before salaries were prorated.
Cristian Pache and Ian Anderson headline Keith Law’s Top 20 Braves prospect list at The Athletic. Pache, Anderson, Braden Shewmake and William Contreras all made Law’s Top 100 list while catcher Shea Langeliers just missed. Tucker Davidson came in at No. 6 while Drew Waters checked in at No. 7.
Cubs president of baseball operations Jed Hoyer told reporters Tuesday that reports of trade talks between Chicago and the Mets regarding third baseman Kris Bryant are inaccurate. Hoyer said that he is not engaged in any active trade conversations currently.
The Los Angeles Angels named bullpen coach Matt Wise as their interim pitching coach replacing the suspended Mickey Callaway. New Angels executive Dom Chiti will serve as the team’s bullpen coach while the investigation of Callaway is ongoing.
The Philadelphia Phillies signed veteran catcher Jeff Mathis to a minor league deal and invited him to spring training. Mathis will earn $1.8 million if he makes the major league roster.
The Milwaukee Brewers agreed to a one-year, $2.5 million deal with free agent left-hander Brett Anderson. Anderson made 10 starts for Milwaukee in 2020 posting a 4.21 ERA in 47 innings.
Bartolo Colon’s baseball career will continue in 2021 after he reached a one-year deal with the Acereros de Monclava of the Mexican League.