Braves face-of-franchise first baseman Freddie Freeman is sold on Austin Riley.
Riley has played two games in the majors, both manning left field rather than his natural position of third base. He homered Wednesday in his second career at-bat, then collected three hits the next night in his second career game.
“When he first came up, I said it’s hard to expect anything in your big-league debut because I was just trying not to throw up that day,” Freeman said. “For him to go out and hit a home run in his second at-bat and follow it up with a three-hit night, it’s pretty impressive.”
Riley also has a double and a single. He’s looked extremely patient at the plate, taking first pitches and rarely chasing outside of the zone. One of his criticisms developing through the minors was a high strikeout rate, a flaw he already improved upon during a scorching-hot start to 2019.
The 22-year-old hit 15 homers with a 1.057 OPS in 37 games at Triple-A Gwinnett.
“All you heard about was can he lay off the right-handed slider, and I don’t think he’s swung at a pitch out of the zone yet,” Freeman said. “He’s seeing mistakes, he’s hitting them. He’s swinging at his pitches. It’s very tough to do when you first get called up. Most guys just want to swing, swing, swing. He’s working his counts and not missing. That’s what’s impressive.”
With outfielder Ender Inciarte on the injured list, Riley’s playing time primarily will remain in left field. He’ll be able to spell Josh Donaldson and third and – if he does take a game off – Freeman at first. Riley’s versatility is invaluable and should keep him in the majors, even when his bat goes through a slump.
How he handles his struggles, whenever they come, will be intriguing. Riley has destroyed minor-league pitching for the majority of the season, and through a small two-game sample size, he hasn’t slowed in the majors.
But that won’t always be the case. Riley will have a regression to the mean, and Freeman is confident he’ll handle that inevitability well.
“It’s going to be very hard,” Freeman said. “No matter who you are, you’re going to go through your ups and downs. Once they get video on you, they’re going to try to go through those, and it’s up to us to make adjustments. I think Austin has that mentality, mindset; he’s very poised, very mature. I think he’s going to be just fine.”
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