Johan Camargo working ‘exceptionally hard’ this offseason

Johan Camargo is in the driver’s seat for the Braves’ third-base job. He hopes to make the most of it after his most underwhelming season as a pro.

Camargo has worked “exceptionally hard” this offseason, Braves general manager Alex Anthopoulos said Tuesday evening. Conditioning has been a crucial element of Camargo’s offseason, and the 26-year-old has looked much leaner in his recent Instagram workout videos.

A relatively unknown minor leaguer hidden among youngsters in Baseball America’s Top 100, Camargo broke through in 2017 to make his major-league debut. He’s since carved out a utility role on the Braves, logging most of his time at third base.

Camargo handled third for the majority of 2018 before he was supplanted by free-agent acquisition Josh Donaldson before last season. Camargo struggled to adjust to more sporadic playing time, eventually being demoted to Triple-A Gwinnett in August.

He played well upon his return, going 5-for-11 with two homers and three RBIs in the ensuing nine games. But Camargo popped a foul ball off his leg during an at-bat, fracturing his right shin and prematurely ending his season.

Donaldson’s status was in limbo before he signed with Minnesota last week. Camargo was positioned to again start at third base if the Braves failed to retain their slugger. He’s worked with extra motivation because of that possibility, according to Anthopoulos, who repeatedly mentioned he was encouraged by the reports of Camargo’s offseason. Last winter was Camargo’s first without playing winter ball, and there’s a belief that played a role in his substandard conditioning.

The refreshed Camargo will compete with heralded prospect Austin Riley for the job. Riley, who exploded in May but stalled through the season afterward, possesses lofty power but has produced heavy strikeout numbers. The Braves are optimistic about his future, but Riley would need an outstanding spring to leap Camargo for the position.

And it does appear the Braves won’t add a third baseman from the outside. They signed outfielder Marcell Ozuna on Tuesday, addressing their power need. While Rockies All-Star Nolan Arenado was an intriguing possibility, the Braves are content to let their in-house third-base competition play out for now.