For pretty much all of the players that spoke at this year’s Braves Fest, the loss of Dansby Swanson in the clubhouse was fresh on their minds. The current offseason was the second in a row where Atlanta lost not only a key contributor on the field, but a very important one in the clubhouse as well. One of the biggest storylines heading into the spring will be who replaces Swanson on the field. Meanwhile, who replaces him off the field could be much more of a group effort.
One of the players who will be tasked with filling Swanson’s void in the clubhouse will be Austin Riley, who signed the largest deal in franchise history last August.
“I’ve learned a lot from Dansby, still talk to him quite often,” Riley said. “Very thankful for the time that I got to spend with him. He’s an unbelievable baseball player and an even better guy. It’s going to be different seeing somebody else over there at shortstop, but at the same time, he’s got to look out for his family. Wish him all the best. I know that Alex and the guys have thought this out and thought this through. Going forward, whoever’s there, I’m excited to play next to him.”
Vaughn Grissom and veteran Orlando Arcia are expected to compete for the shortstop job during Spring Training, but it feels like the Braves are going to give Grissom every opportunity to show that he can handle the position. Riley was asked what advice he might give Grissom for the upcoming season.
“Try to take it take it all in. We have, to me, the best defensive guy you could ever ask for in Wash,” Riley said. “I know he’s spent some time with him this offseason. For me, personally, soaking in everything from Wash, whatever he says. He could tell me to stand on my head and try to get to ground balls and I’m going to do it just because he’s that good. He understands the game and his attention to detail is unbelievable. For me, personally, that’s all the advice I can give him. Just play your game. Don’t worry about who you’re trying to fill in for. Be yourself, play your game and trust in your ability.”
“Griss is a good dude. He plays a game so freely. Plays the game so loose. I think that’s going to help him in making that step forward,” Riley added. “He just loves the game, wants to play as hard as he can when he goes out there and that’s what he does. I think there’s something to be said about somebody that just goes out there and plays freely. He’s always smiling. I think he’s going to be just fine.”
While Riley has confidence in Grissom on the field, he thinks that it will be more of a group effort to replace Swanson in the clubhouse. He is confident that the Braves have enough leaders in place that they won’t miss a beat.
“I think Alex has done a good job of getting a good core group of guys where it doesn’t have to be one person to lead the clubhouse. It could be whoever,” Riley said. “I think we all as a group have the same mindset, have the same goals, have the same values to where it kind of monitors itself. When things aren’t going well, we don’t hit the panic button. It’s not like there’s going to be a bunch of tension in the clubhouse. We’re not pointing fingers. I don’t think there’s going to be any of that. I know [there’s] not. I don’t think there’ll be any issues as far as a leader standpoint.”
While there have been some high profile departures over the last couple of seasons, Atlanta has locked up a number of players to form the team’s core going forward, including Riley, Matt Olson, Michael Harris II, and Spencer Strider. Coming off a World Series title in 2021 and 101 wins in 2022, the expectations are sky-high for the future.
“It’s awesome. For me, the reason we play is to try and win a World Series,” Riley said when asked about the high expectations. “I think that’s a goal that if you ask anybody in that clubhouse, that’s the number one goal. To be the last man standing. It’s been a real honor to be a part of winning a World Series at a very young age. Fortunate and blessed to do that and to continue to try to do that with a good group. It’s special to me.”
The 2022 season certainly didn’t end the way the Braves wanted and Riley understands that winning a sixth-straight NL East title isn’t a given either. Not with how the Mets and Phillies have stocked up this offseason.
“Those two teams are going to be tough this year. Watching them, to me, it’s what we did in 2021. We got hot at the right time. That’s, to me, the name of the game. Who can stay healthy the longest throughout 162 and get hot at the right time? I know it’s going to be a fun year. I’m actually anxious to play everybody. The new schedule is going to be fun. But, those two, you definitely watch them, the box scores every night to see what’s going on there.”