Third Base: An Atlanta Braves Saga


As we move closer to the start of the Atlanta Braves season, third base is no longer manned by Josh Donaldson. The veteran has moved on to greener pastures in Minnesota, as they signed the 2015 AL MVP to a four-year, $92 million contract. This leaves the Atlanta Braves with a hole to fill. Donaldson batted .259 with 37 homers and 94 RBI last season for the NL East division-winners. But despite his shoes being difficult to fill, the Atlanta Braves still have options.

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Photo courtesy of Bill Greenblatt/UPI

Possible Trade:

Atlanta is in a win-now mindset. Trading for a major corner infielder, such as Kris Bryant, would push them in the direction of being World Series favorites. Without a doubt, they have the pieces to play the trade game. They could offer Austin Riley, Ian Anderson, and Kyle Wright.

Riley is a third baseman himself but played in the outfield for Atlanta last season. He started off with a bang but it didn’t end well for him. Riley ended the season with a 0.1 WAR with a measly .226 average in 297 plate appearances. However, he is still considered a top young player. Not to mention, Riley holds the Braves record for the most hits in a player’s first four games, with eight in that stretch.

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Photo courtesy of Forbes

While Riley is a major-league piece, the Cubs could gain two young starters for the future. Ian Anderson is a right-handed pitcher who tossed to a 3.38 ERA over 26 minor-league starts last season. The former first-round pick and the #31 prospect in baseball (according to MLBPipeline) struggled in Triple-A over five starts, but was much better in Double-A, posting a 2.68 ERA over 21 starts. Right-handed pitcher Kyle Wright appeared in seven games, including four starts, in the majors last season. Wright posted an 8.69 ERA, with a 1.88 WHIP. However, in 21 minor-league starts, he posted a 4.17 ERA, with a 1.28 WHIP. He currently is ranked the 38th prospect in all of baseball.

Both are considered to frontline starting pitchers and make a nice package with Austin Riley should Atlanta look to fill the vacancy at third base via trade.

In House Options:

Perhaps the answer at the hot corner is to allow Austin Riley to simply take over. Riley is intriguing, but his torrid start and subsequent fall-off makes him appear more volatile than his counterpart, Johan Camargo. Once considered a top-10 prospect, Camargo has been, at best, up and down. In 2017, he slashed .295/.340/.473 at Triple-A Gwinnett and received a call up from the big league club. The infielder proceeded to post a .299/.331/.452 batting line in 256 plate appearances. Camargo maintained a solid line of .272/.349/.457 with 19 home runs in 2018 and helped Atlanta win their division.

However, the club signed Josh Donaldson in 2019, which relegated Camargo to a utility role. That season was forgettable for him, as he hit to just a .233/.279/.384 clip. Unable to play regularly, Camargo’s year seemed squandered.

Was 2018 the pinnacle for Camargo or was 2019 just a bump in the road? Could regular playing time translate to better numbers or have the pitchers figured out how to pitch to him? It’s hard to say for sure when you’re playing different positions and starting sporadically. However, his arm is strong and his glovework is serviceable enough to man the position. But how short is the leash and how much time will the team spend figuring out if Camargo is the answer at third base? His best option could be embracing a role as a super-utility player. That way, it would allow others to rest while keeping him in the lineup for regular at-bats.

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Photo courtesy of TalkingChop

Trying a Platoon System:

Coming from a place of mixed uncertainty, a platoon option of Camargo and Riley could be the best choice in the short-term. The scenario could benefit both players, as it leaves competition up to the players’ production. Obviously, if one is hot, then one starts and the other can pinch-hit or come in as a defensive replacement.

The downside to this scenario is that both players hit better against lefties, which makes a traditional platoon situation risky. However, an article written by Talking Chop references the two’s tOPS+ numbers against different types of pitchers. The number is measured according to 100, which is the league average – so if a players’ number is over 100, it is considered above-average. The article noted that Riley has a better tOPS+ versus power pitchers (138) while Camargo has a better tOPS+ against average and finesse pitchers (125, 92). In this way, the opposing starter’s velocity or style could determine who starts that day. It may be a stretch, but it could be something to watch.

Riley seems to be the trendy pick for third, but Johan Camargo is the most interesting piece to the Braves roster puzzle. However you stack it, the Braves have two attractive, though risky, parts to fill the hole at the hot corner.

Overall Outlook

After a busy start to the Braves’ offseason, their activity has slowed. They have addressed nearly every place on their roster: catcher, the outfield, bench spots, the starting rotation, and the bullpen have all been upgraded significantly. However, a trade for a third baseman is not mandatory nor a decision needed to be made immediately.

The Braves have talent, they have prospects, they have two players capable of playing the hot corner. It is a problem some teams would love to have. However, the position could be the key to advancing and winning their first World Series since 1995. Either way, the Braves look to capture their third straight division title next season and make a run in the postseason. The rain may have left but there is still plenty of thunder and lightning.

Chop on!

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