In Austin Riley‘s 3rd MLB season he finally lived up to his potential, and then some. The 24 year old won the NL Silver Slugger award at 3rd base, finished 7th in the NL MVP race, and was named to the All-MLB 1st team.
The potential was on display at AA Mississippi and AAA Gwinnett from 2017 – 2019, as he put up .321/.391/.570 and .286/.353/.525 BA/OBP/SLG% lines respectively. Riley hit 27 homers in 465 at bats at Gwinnett, and the power had already translated pretty well at the Major League level. Austin hit 26 homers in his first 462 MLB at bats over 2019 and 2020. However, he combined to post only a .232 batting average.
Austin was awarded 6.1 WAR by Baseball Reference, good for 8th in the NL. I was surprised to find that Riley was rated 10th in the entire NL in Defensive WAR, at 1.5. Fangraphs calculates Riley at only 4.2 WAR, seeing him as a below average fielder ( -7.0 UZR.) We are pretty good these days at quantifying offensive value; I think we are still a ways away on quantifying defensive value.
One thing we don’t have to estimate is that Austin finished 2021 at .303/.367/.531, adding 33 homers in 590 at bats, and 107 RBIs. With this offensive output, the Braves really only needed Riley to make the routine plays in the field, which he did relatively well. His .965 fielding percentage was good for 3rd in the league at 3rd base. He also spent a lot of time standing out in short right field against left-handed batters.
Based on his work at Gwinnett, I would have been thrilled if Riley had hit .265 this season. It remains to be seen if he can maintain a .300 average. I will conclude by saying that not every 24 year old who’s had success hitting in the minors will pan out, but it’s the way to bet.