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Johan Camargo vs. Austin Riley

Camargo and Riley

Barring any blockbuster trades, third base will be the most exciting position battle in Braves’ spring training. With the departure of Josh Donaldson, the Braves look set on going with either Johan Camargo or Austin Riley. Both have shown what they can do and how they impact a game. Who is the Braves better option at the hot corner, Camargo or Riley?

Austin Riley

Austin Riley made quite the debut for the Braves last year, hitting eight home runs in his first sixteen games. He showed that he can be a big power bat and his game has plenty of time to grow, as he will only be twenty-three this season. In 2019, he barreled 13.7% of balls, which is more than double the major-league average of 6.3%. He also has a higher average exit velocity, launch angle, hard hit percentage, and expected slugging than the average major-league hitter. On the flip side, his fall was a rapid as his rise. Pitchers quickly adjusted to Riley and learned he could not hit a slider. Over last season, Riley saw 376 breaking balls and whiffed 48.3% of the time. His strikeout rate was 14.7% higher than the average major-league hitter. Riley showed a lot of potential but also huge gaps in his swing and became an easy out for most pitchers.

We have yet to see what Riley can do at third base as he only played 7% of his appearances there but that was his primary position in the minors. Riley has yet to steal a base at the Major League level despite ranking in the 71st percentile for spring speed. Riley is a good athlete with some speed but does not project as a base stealer in the future. Overall, Riley will be your prototypical third basemen. He will hit for power, strikeout a lot, play average defense, and be a decent runner. Riley flashed that power last season but can he gain it back?

Johan Camargo

Johan Camargo had a down year in 2019. He struggled to get anything going after moving from an everyday player to a bench role. Camargo saw his at-bats cut in half and every metric drop from his breakout 2018. Speaking of 2018, that was the year Camargo showed what he can really do at the plate. In 2018, Camargo hit .272 with an .806 OPS. Whether you believe in the clutch gene or not, Camargo comes through with players in scoring position. Despite his overall struggles, he still hit .309 with runners in scoring position. To add onto Camargo’s production in the clutch, he hit .296 in high leverage situations. That average is above big name players such as Anthony Rizzo, Javier Baez, Yasmani Grandal, and Rafael Devers. Camargo has been a utility infielder his whole career but has played mostly at the hot corner. He has 5 defensive runs saved in over 1,000 innings with a fielding percentage of .954. These numbers will not blow you away or win any kind of awards but his fielding will not hurt you. Camargo is not a speedster at all. He only ranks in the 25th percentile for spring speed and has two stolen bases in his career. With a down year in 2019, the biggest question is if he can regain the success he had in 2018.

Camargo or Riley?

I believe Camargo will win this job out of spring training and keep the job for all of 2020. This will be more because of Camargo’s production than Riley’s short comings. A sophomore slump is a fairly normal thing for players, as scouting reports are better developed on them. Camargo was playing at a heavier weight in 2019 than in 2018. David O’Brien shared a picture from Instagram that shows he has slimmed down back to his 2018 size. This is a good sign for Camargo’s production. After he was sent down in August last season, he came back in September with a seemingly better approach. In the eleven plate appearances he got down the stretch, he got five hits and four of those going to extra bases. Camargo has shown how good he can be over a full season’s stretch before and Braves’ fans are forgetting that. Do not expect Camargo to have another down year as he shifts back to an everyday role.

Riley being so young has time to figure out his approach in Gwinnett. There is no need to rush him back up, especially with the strikeout rate he posted last season. Only if Riley is dominating AAA is it necessary to bring him back up. Riley would be a better platoon option with Ender Inciarte or Nick Markakis than he will be replacing Camargo.

For 2020, Braves’ fans should expect Camargo to bounce back to the level he was at in 2018. He is determined to be back by putting in the work in the off-season as well as being vocal about wanting to get back. Riley is most likely be the long-term answer but do not sleep on Camargo.


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Justin Parrish
Senior Baseball Player and Sports Management Major at Eastern Mennonite University.
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