31 Aug

ready and waiting

Though there is no opening at third base in Atlanta at the moment, former DeSoto Central High star Austin Riley continues to build his resume, prepping for an opportunity that can’t be far off. Riley, 21, one of the Braves’ highest-rated prospects, is batting .283 with 11 homers and 46 RBIs at Triple-A Gwinnett. He extended his hitting streak to nine games on Thursday with a 3-for-5, five-RBI effort that included his fourth homer in his last eight games. He has 18 bombs this season, including six he hit at the start of the year in Double-A Mississippi. Riley’s progress this season, his fourth in pro ball, was stalled by a knee injury in early June. It took a while, but he seems fully recovered now. “I think the biggest thing was trusting that my leg was 100 percent … and being able to put all my weight on it pressure-wise, whether it’s a swing or defense,” Riley said in an milb.com story. “Just being able to trust that it’s 100 percent.” Riley isn’t on the Braves’ 40-man roster – and M-Braves alum Johan Camargo is handling third base very well — so a September call-up isn’t a foregone conclusion. But Riley stands ready. “I think he’s more than capable of helping that club win right now,” Gwinnett manager Damon Berryhill told the Gwinnett Daily Post. P.S. Former M-Braves pitcher John Gant homered for St. Louis — while also throwing 5 2/3 shutout innings to notch a win – and is now 2-for-36 in his MLB career, both hits homers. His other bomb came earlier this month and was the first since high school for the eight-year pro.

18 May

one step away

It’s a small sample size but still worth noting: Former DeSoto Central High standout Austin Riley is batting .325 (13-for-40) with three homers and 11 RBIs through his first 10 games in Triple-A. He has hit safely in eight of those games, including a four-hit, three-homer performance on Sunday, and has yet to make an error at third base. He also has two hat tricks (three-strikeout games) for Gwinnett. “It’s all about adjustments,” Riley told the Marietta Daily Journal. “Each level you move up, the pitchers get better. You never stop learning in this game.” Riley, one of Atlanta’s top-rated prospects, batted .333 with six homers in 27 games for the Double-A Mississippi Braves before his promotion. At 21, Riley is the same age as Ozzie Albies and a year older than Ronald Acuna, who are leading the “Baby Braves” contingent that has helped revitalize the big league club. Most projections have Riley making the majors in 2019, but he could force the Braves’ hand this summer. P.S. Ex-Mississippi State star Dakota Hudson is also in Triple-A and knocking on the MLB door. St. Louis’ first-round pick in 2016, right-hander Hudson is 4-1 with a 2.88 ERA in seven starts for Memphis. He is rated the Cardinals’ No. 4 prospect by MLB Pipeline. … Hunter Renfroe, the State alum who is hoping to get back to the big leagues, went 1-for-5 with an RBI double and three K’s Thursday in his first game after being sent to Triple-A El Paso. Renfroe was batting .200 with two homers for San Diego when he went on the disabled list in mid-April. … Former Petal High star Anthony Alford, sent down by Toronto earlier this week, went 0-for-4 with two strikeouts at Triple-A Buffalo on Wednesday. … Also itching for another shot in The Show is Ole Miss product Bobby Wahl, who has a 1.50 ERA, two saves and 26 punchouts in 18 innings for Triple-A Nashville in Oakland’s system. Wahl made seven appearances for the A’s last year before suffering a shoulder injury. He was dropped from the 40-man roster in the fall. … Braxton Lee, the ex-UM standout from Picayune who started this season in the majors with Miami, is currently on the DL at Triple-A New Orleans. He hit .176 in eight MLB games and is at .186 in 12 games for the Baby Cakes. … Ole Miss alum and onetime big leaguer Alex Presley, who had been at Triple-A Norfolk in Baltimore’s system, has been granted his release and is now a free agent.

03 May

what’s up with that?

That noise you hear might be Austin Riley revving his engine. The former DeSoto Central High star, who was just named Atlanta’s Double-A player of the month for April, appears ready for the move to the next level. Some would say the 21-year-old third baseman appeared ready after last season. But Riley remains with the Mississippi Braves at the moment while Atlanta continues its confounding Jose Bautista experiment. Atlanta signed the 37-year-old free agent late last month and is playing him at third base at Triple-A Gwinnett, prepping him for the big league job, where Ryan Flaherty and Johan Camargo have looked more than capable. Bautista last played third base with any regularity in 2011. And, again, he’s 37. Bautista, who has 331 big league homers (and almost as many controversial bat-flips), is hitting .250 with one homer in 36 at-bats for Gwinnett. He has made two errors in nine games at third. It’s just hard to fathom how Bautista fits with the Braves and their recent emphasis on young players from their well-stocked farm system. Riley fits. The 6-foot-3, 220-pound fourth-year pro is batting .318 with five homers, eight doubles and 18 RBIs this season. He hit .315 with eight homers for the M-Braves in 48 games in 2017. He has 57 homers in his brief pro career. His defense is solid. “Love the guy,” M-Braves manager Chris Maloney said in a recent TV interview. “Plays hard. Plays smart. Does all the little things, plus he has a lot of talent.” Riley is the future – and he certainly looks ready to be tested in Triple-A.

06 Mar

heating up

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.

18 Jul

sneak preview

Austin Riley is projected by Baseball America to be Atlanta’s third baseman by 2020. The former DeSoto Central High star has climbed the minor-league ladder at a good pace, reaching the Double-A level midway through his third pro season at age 20. He’ll make his much-anticipated Trustmark Park debut on Wednesday as the Mississippi Braves open a 10-game homestand during which Riley will have a chance to display the power bat and rifle arm that enticed the Braves to draft him 41st overall in 2015. Riley, 6 feet 3, 220 pounds, is 4-for-18 for the M-Braves to date; he hit his first Double-A homer on Monday at Pensacola. He doesn’t arrive in Pearl with quite the same pizzazz that accompanied Ronald Acuna, but Riley is rated among the top 18 prospects in Atlanta’s loaded system by three different publications. He has already had a decorated minor league career, making Baseball America’s rookie-level All-Star team in 2015 and low Class A team in 2016. He was a midseason All-Star pick in the high-A Florida State League last month and was batting .252 with 12 homers for Florida at the time of his promotion. MLB Pipeline’s scouting report notes that Riley, like many young sluggers, needs to be more selective at the plate, cut down on strikeouts and draw more walks. But his raw power excites, and how that tool plays at Trustmark Park will be something to watch for. … Riley, who was born in Memphis but grew up in Southaven, joins the list of Mississippians to play for the M-Braves that includes Zack Bird, Jay Powell, Michael Rosamond, John Thomson, Van Pope and Brent Leach.

14 Jul

going places

New level, no problem for Atlanta prospects Austin Riley and Ronald Acuna. Former DeSoto Central High star Riley went 2-for-4 in his Double-A debut with the Mississippi Braves on Thursday night, while Acuna, promoted from the M-Braves to Triple-A Gwinnett, homered and added two more hits for the G-Braves. Riley, a first-round supplemental pick in 2015, is rated the No. 11 prospect in Atlanta’s system by Baseball America and No. 12 by MLB Pipeline. The 20-year-old played third base and batted third for the M-Braves in a 2-0 win at Pensacola. He was batting .252 with 12 homers at high Class A Florida after belting 20 bombs at low-A Rome in 2016. Travis Demeritte, also regarded as a prospect, moved back to second base from third in Thursday’s game for the M-Braves; Demeritte has 11 homers but is hitting just .211. (The M-Braves’ next home game is July 19.) In Charlotte, N.C., on Thursday, the 19-year-old Acuna, BA’s No. 10 overall prospect, played right field and batted leadoff in the G-Braves’ 13-4 victory. After fanning in his first at-bat, he went yard in his second. He scored three times and drove in two runs. Acuna, who began this season with the high-A Florida club, hit .326 with nine homers – including a shot over the Trustmark Park batter’s eye on Tuesday – 30 RBIs and 19 steals in 57 games for the M-Braves. He played in the All-Star Futures Game on Sunday. The Braves may be considering adding Acuna to the big league roster if they are still in the playoff hunt in the season’s final weeks. He could be a difference-maker.

06 Mar

future’s so bright …

Former DeSoto Central High standout Austin Riley got to rub elbows with the Atlanta big leaguers over the weekend and apparently did not look out of place. Riley, 19, a supplemental first-round pick by the Braves in 2015, went 2-for-2 in a Grapefruit League game on Saturday and 0-for-2 with a walk on Sunday. Braves manager Brian Snitker was impressed. “I’ve heard a lot about him, seen him in Instructional League. He’s a man. I mean, that’s real-deal right there,” Snitker, the former Mississippi Braves manager, told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Riley, 6 feet 3, 220 pounds, is rated the No. 8 third base prospect in the minors by MLB Pipeline and is a consensus top 15 in the Braves’ stacked system, which is rated No. 1 overall by MLB Pipeline and Baseball America. Riley played at the low Class A level in 2016, batting .271 with 20 homers in his first full year in Atlanta’s system, and he has 32 homers in 189 pro games. He figures to start 2017 with the high-A Florida Fire Frogs in the Florida State League and arrive at Double-A Mississippi next season, though that timetable can certainly change. As highly regarded as he is, Riley isn’t one of the seven Braves players ranked among the top 100 prospects by MLB Pipeline. That list does include 2016 M-Braves Dansby Swanson, Ozzie Albies and Sean Newcomb. “It’s pretty neat what the future’s going to look like here,” Snitker told the AJC. P.S. Tyler Moore is making a strong bid to stick with Miami. The Mississippi State product from Brandon smacked his third homer of the spring on Sunday and is batting .462. Limited by injuries in 2016, the right-handed hitting first baseman hit three homers in 25 games for Triple-A Gwinnett in the Braves’ organization. He signed a minor league deal with the Marlins in the off-season. Moore has 24 MLB homers spread over four seasons, all with Washington.