Gwinnett's Austin Riley receives congratulations after bringing home another run. (Photo by Matthew Caldwell/Gwinnett Stripers)

Austin Riley starts in left field for fourth time in five days

And yet, the Braves’ third-base prospect started in left field for the fourth time in five days Sunday. 

The 21-year-old slugger is the hottest player in the International League. He’s homered 12 times over his last 16 games, bringing his season total to 14. During that time, he’s hit .426 with 26 RBIs. 

Riley leads the IL in home runs, extra-base hits (24), total bases (94), runs (31) and RBIs (35). His slugging percentage (.691) ranks second, while his 1.077 OPS is third.

No matter how well Riley plays, it doesn’t solve the conundrum of where to play him in the majors. The Braves have well-compensated free-agent addition Josh Donaldson at Riley’s natural position. The outfield is stocked with Ronald Acuna, Ender Inciarte and Nick Markakis.

The Braves wouldn’t promote Riley in a bench role, given he’s still a work in progress who needs daily at-bats. He’s handling left field to increase his versatility, creating another avenue to the bigs, especially in the event an MLB regular is injured.

For now, the Braves are content letting him rake in Triple-A. Under whatever circumstances, and be it later this season or even next, Riley will get his major-league chance. His hot streaks make that debut all the more anticipated.

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