Don’t look now, but Austin Riley – who has been getting advice from Chipper Jones this spring – is starting to hit. The ex-DeSoto Central High star went 2-for-3 with a homer today in Atlanta’s 5-1 Grapefruit League win over Toronto. After an 0-for-8 start in Florida, the 20-year-old third baseman is now 4-for-19 with two bombs, four RBIs and four runs. Riley graciously gives some credit to Jones. “It’s been an honor to be around that type of player and pick his brain about, really, the mental side of hitting and the importance of trying to get inside the pitcher’s head,” Riley told mlb.com. Riley, a top 10 Braves prospect, is in camp as a non-roster invitee. He’ll likely play at Triple-A Gwinnett this season and could make the majors in 2019. He hit .275 with 20 homers and 74 RBIs overall last season at high Class A Florida and Double-A Mississippi. For what it’s worth, he looks the part of a third baseman: 6 feet 3, 220 pounds. And he has the arm to play there.
Surely you’ve seen it: Billy Hamilton made another highlight-reel catch on Monday, robbing Shohei Ohtani of extra bases in a Cactus League game. Hamilton’s defense is Gold Glove-caliber – on that we can all agree. It’s that other phase of the game – offense – where the Taylorsville native has been lacking. He would seem to be the type of player – that is, small and really fast — who could benefit from bunting for a hit. Yes, he’s a base-stealing fool. But he has a career on-base percentage in MLB of .298, which is not good, especially for a leadoff batter, which is what Cincinnati wants him to be. According to research published by espn.com, Hamilton, now entering his fifth season with the Reds, is bunting less than ever and not doing it very well. He had four bunt hits in 2017 on 19 attempts. That’s down from career-highs of 15 and 44 in 2014. The 160-pound Hamilton had as many homers as bunt hits last season. And he struck out 133 times in 582 at-bats. When he gets on base, he scores quite often – 44 percent of the time in 2017, according to FanGraphs. Seems he just hasn’t been taking full advantage of his strongest tool – speed – and that’s very puzzling. Hamilton reportedly is working on his bunting this spring in Arizona, though we’ve heard that before. He has been out of sync at the plate generally, going hitless in his first 14 at-bats over seven games. He popped up, struck out and walked (then was caught stealing) on Monday.