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Can Austin Riley make the leap in 2021?

Atlanta certainly needs him to do so

MLB: NLCS-Atlanta Braves at Los Angeles Dodgers Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

Austin Riley just oozes with potential at the plate, but the Atlanta Braves need the junior third baseman to take a huge leap this season to continue their Division Title streak.

I had the opportunity to ask Austin a few questions and the first one was about his next step as a player:

The next step for me as a player is just being more consistent! I think that's the name of the game and being able to get into a routine that works for me that allows me to be consistent is key.

Baseball players are typically creatures of extreme habit, so a routine is certainly key for consistency. In his first two years on the diamond, Riley has been all over the field:

  • 10 games at 1B
  • 51 games at 3B
  • 62 games in LF
  • 2 games in RF

For a player who really hangs his hat on the offensive part of the game, the amount of extra time Riley has had to put in practicing for the outfield and first base may have really messed with him at the plate. His routine would certainly be different day to day based on where the team needed him to plug in. His surge during his rookie season came when he was consistently playing left field, suggesting consistency in defensive position can lead to more success on the field.

On playing everyday last season: “More than anything, it built confidence of being an everyday player and understanding what it takes to prepare your body to play at the big league level everyday.”

The Braves could have entered the Nolan Arenado sweepstakes, but instead doubled down on Riley as the man at the hot corner. The team recently signed Jake Lamb, perhaps as an insurance policy, or possible platoon option if Austin struggles.

The Numbers

Although it was 91 fewer plate appearances than he totaled in 2019, Austin Riley improved his numbers in many offensive categories in 2020.

Batting Average: .239 (+.013)

OBP: .301 (+.022)

Strikeout rate: 23.8% (-12.6%)

Walk rate: 7.8% (+2.4%)

His slugging percentage was down last season but the other numbers suggest he was more disciplined at the plate, which is always a great development for a young player. His BABIP was also down 0.011, suggesting he had a little less luck at the plate as well.

What the Braves need

Defensively, the Braves need Riley to give them reason to not play Johan Camargo or Lamb everyday and allow others to provide defensive versatility off the bench. Offensively, Atlanta needs Riley to be consistent, as he said. Something like a .280 average with 20+ home runs and 80+ RBIs with an increased walk rate and decreased strikeout rate would make his junior season a breakout campaign.

When asked about his goals for the 2021 season, Riley responded with:

“My goal this year is to play 162 games at the big league level, being a contributor in the lineup every night. I want to be someone that my teammates can count on day in and day out.”

Look for Riley to secure the everyday job at third in Spring Training and become and important part of this Braves team winning another division title in 2021.

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