While conversing with media before the Braves’ victory over the Twins on Wednesday, former third baseman Josh Donaldson weighed in on the Braves’ competition to replace him – and specifically, youngster Austin Riley.
Donaldson, 34, saw plenty of competitors Riley and Johan Camargo a season ago. He saw Riley, also represented by MVP Sports Group, scorch earth upon his MLB promotion but soon sink low enough to he eventually was left off the postseason roster. He saw Camargo’s uneven 2019, when the switch-hitter didn’t take well to a utility role and ultimately had his season cut short by a shin fracture.
Both players are off to encouraging starts this spring, though the Braves – to this point – have said it’s unrealistic for both to make the initial 26-man roster. A trimmer Camargo is 8-for-26 with one homer and six RBIs. He’s appeared looser and more athletic than a season ago.
Riley is 9-for-27 with two homers and four RBIs, showing less propensity to chase those pesky away pitches. Spring training is a minuscule sample size, of course, but the Braves wanted to see progress. After winning rookie of the month in May, hitting .356 with seven homers, Riley endured a harsh regression to the mean. He finished with a .226/.279/.471 line in 80 games.
“Austin, I think, has a tremendous amount of ability,” Donaldson said. “He has a tremendous amount of ability to hit. I think what I tried to (explain) to Austin last year was – he came in and was knocking the cover off the ball, we all saw it, we were part of it, it was very exciting to watch – but I know, in this game, there’s only a few people who don’t take that rough patch. It’s how mentally ready you are and secure in what you’re doing with how high those highs get and how low those lows get.”
“I was trying to be that guy for Austin last year because I know how important he can be. Sometimes it just takes a little bit of time for that seed to grow. I tried to plant those seeds with Austin last year, and with Camargo, and with a lot of different guys in that organization. Sometimes it takes a little bit of time for that seed to grow. I’m excited to be able to see Austin or Camargo get that opportunity, because both of them I feel are very capable.”
When the Braves opted not to match Minnesota’s offer to Donaldson (worth $92 million over four years with a fifth-year option), they opened a third-base competition between their two in-house options. They addressed their clean-up void with free-agent outfielder Marcell Ozuna, who was willing to sign a one-year deal.
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