FanGraphs is rolling out their positional power rankings this week in advance of Opening Day of the 2021 regular season. The Atlanta Braves topped the rankings for first base and second base thanks to strong projections for reigning National League MVP Freddie Freeman and Ozzie Albies.
The Braves didn’t fair as well at third base in the rankings where they check in at No. 25. Jason Martinez had this to say about Austin Riley in the article.
In just over 500 big league plate appearances, Austin Riley has yet to live up to the hype of the top prospect who was moved to a corner outfield spot in 2019 just so his team could get his bat into the lineup. But entering his second full major league season — his first that won’t be delayed by nearly four months and shortened by 102 games — the soon-to-be 24-year-old is in line to be the starting third baseman on a team that is loaded with talent. The signing of Jake Lamb, who went 12-for-45 with three homers and four doubles in a late-season stint with the A’s in 2020, to a major league contract makes it clear, however, that Riley won’t have an incredibly long leash. The Braves are considered a World Series contender, after all.
I do not necessarily agree that Jake Lamb is as much of a threat to steal time from Riley unless his struggles are severe. If we get to that point, then Atlanta may be forced to look outside the organization for help.
Riley’s 2020 season was a weird one when you look at it in totality. On the positive side, he was able to reduce his strikeout rate and did a better job of laying off the slider away which was a major reason that he struggled so badly during the second half of 2019. However, he sacrificed some power to get there with his ISO dropping from .245 all the way to .176.
2020 was generally a weird season so it will be interesting to see what the Braves get from Riley in 2021. He has been included as a breakout candidate on several lists during the spring. The power is real, you just have to wonder if there is enough contact there to make it worthwhile.