Braves happy with growth of third basemen Camargo, Riley

Braves infielder Johan Valentin Camargo was born Dec. 13, 1993 in Panama City, Panama. Camargo signed with the Braves on July 2, 2010, when he was 16. Camargo made his major league debut, with the Braves, on April 11, 2017. Camargo hit .299 in 82 games in the 2017 season. He had four home runs and 27 RBIs in 241 at-bats. Camargo also recorded 21 doubles in 2017. Entering 2018 spring training, Camargo was the apparent choice to begin the season as the starter at third base before an injury sidelined him.

On Sept. 28, Johan Camargo launched his final homer of the season in Philadelphia. His tally, 19, far surpassed what anyone could’ve expected, even if Camargo arrived at spring training looking rather brawny.

The Braves’ once-unheralded prospect finished with a .272 average, collecting 76 RBIs in 134 games. He posted seven defensive runs saved at third, fifth best in the majors. He didn’t even assume the regular third-base job until late May, initially delayed by injury while Ryan Flaherty and Jose Bautista temporarily filled the void.

After Camargo’s pleasantly surprising rookie season, the Braves opted not to add a third baseman. Mike Moustakas wasn’t in real consideration, and the trade market was thin. They elected to invest in Camargo.

He wasn’t perfect. There were defensive miscues. The bat had its ups and downs. Camargo’s four-game postseason was one to forget: He didn’t even record a hit and struck out five times.

But the overall body of work was encouraging – and showed enough that the Braves are comfortable entering 2019 with Camargo locking down third.

“Obviously with the year he had, we have no reason to believe he can’t be the every-day guy going forward next year at third base,” general manager Alex Anthopoulos said. “That doesn’t mean that we’ll rule out something if something presents itself.”

That’s the new Braves’ M.O. They aren’t going to force the issue, as last offseason proved, but are always willing to listen. The Braves hadn’t yet formed their “priorities and tiers,” as Anthopoulos coined it, last week, though third base likely won’t be high on the list.

“Camargo really emerged as the year went on,” Anthopoulos said. “The fact he can play short, second, move around just gives more value to us.”

Not to forget about third-base prospect Austin Riley, currently the organization’s highest-regarded position player who’s on the cusp of the majors. The team considered a September promotion, but the at-bats weren’t there in a pennant race.

Riley likely will debut sometime in 2019. Theoretically, he provides the power the lineup needs at a position that typically supplies it. But with Dansby Swanson and Ozzie Albies manning shortstop and second base, respectively, it’s fair to wonder if Riley could one day push Camargo into a bench role.

That said, Riley has yet to play a major-league game. Camargo has gotten progressively better. It’s a good problem to have, and one in which the Braves will kick the proverbial can down the road.

“He was awesome when he started the season,” Anthopoulos said of Riley. “Got up to Gwinnett, had the three home run game. Tailed off for a bit, missed time. Came back and really played well at the end. That’s what I’ve been told about him. He starts off slow when he goes to a new level and eventually he’ll just adjust and get better.

“The fact he turned 21 at the start of the season, the plus defense, the makeup I heard before I got here was off the charts. It just continued. We’re very, very high on him and very excited about him. He’ll develop mentally, we’ll continue to get him at-bats and see where it goes.”

Baseball America rates Austin Riley as baseball’s No. 54 prospect and FanGraphs lists him at No. 55.