Austin Riley is a thing. New ball aside, he’s currently hitting .308/.378/.677 with 13 homers and 33 runs batted in for Triple-A Gwinnett. I’m a fan and own a share in my main squeeze league. In the preseason Top 100 I ranked him 24th overall and had this to say: “He [Riley] has plus power and hit 19 homers in 2018 between AA and AAA. He also hit .294 on the year, which is super. Only blemish is a 28% strikeout rate, but there will be some more seasoning in AAA this year for him to work on that. Speaking of blemishes, have you seen Grey’s backne? Gross!” That K-rate has come down to 20% so far in 2019. All of this is horseshit though, because what everyone really wants to know is when Riley will be up and playing every day for the Braves. I didn’t include him in the May stash list because I figured a currently healthy Donaldson would trap him in the minors until at least June. But a recent development has me thinking we could see Austin Riley up sooner. I’ll save that nugget for after the jump…
This is an opportunity to talk about some of the factors I consider when trying to figure out a promotion timeline, which – at its best – is guesswork. Hopefully by explaining a few things I can at least make you believe it’s educated guesswork.
The 40-Man Roster – Teams have two “rosters” – the 25-man active roster and the 40-man roster. The 25-man is the folks you see on TV in the dugout and in the bullpen. The 40-man is those guys along with players on the 10-day injured list (60-day doesn’t count), and players optioned to the minors. Most teams have the 40 sorted by Opening Day, so you can actually get a picture for which prospects might get promoted before the season even starts. After that, if a team wants to add a player to the 40, they’ll “purchase” the contract of the player. The problem becomes what to do to make room for the new guy, since most MLB teams aren’t interested in giving players away (even replacement-level ones) for nothing. TL;DR – There are less hoops to jump through and problems to solve if a guy is already on the 40. Riley is NOT on the 40 at the moment. That could be the biggest hiccup for now.
Changing Position – This is the nugget I referenced in the intro. Basically it’s common sense. The organization doesn’t have a need at a position where a prospect who is mashing currently plays, so they try him out at a position where they do have a need. Riley recently started playing left field. That just happens to be where Ender Inciarte currently plays. Inciarte is hitting .216 with a pair of homers. Left field isn’t exactly high up on the defensive spectrum so the learning curve ain’t as steep. I shouldn’t have to connect the dots with this one.
Significant Injuries (or Potential Injuries) – Riley’s natural position is third base, where Josh Donaldson is currently playing in Atlanta. The Bringer of Rain has averaged 82 games – or about half a season – over the past two years. He’s not made of glass, but he hasn’t been the poster boy for health either.
Service Time – The Super Two deadline is typically anywhere from late May to mid June (it changes because it’s based on a percentage). Teams looking to save money (especially teams out of contention who are looking to save money) will want to postpone a prospect’s promotion until after the Super Two deadline to avoid an extra year of salary arbitration. A team like the Indians or the Orioles could be placed into one of these categories, which is why the cries for Bobby Bradley, Oscar Mercado, Yusniel Diaz, and Ryan Mountcastle might fall on deaf ears until the Super Two date has safely passed. The Braves aren’t tight with the wallet for the right players and they’re fighting for the NL East crown with three other teams, so I’m not sure Super Two is a huge factor for Riley.
So, our friend Austin Riley ticks three of the four boxes I typically look at. Does that mean he’ll be up tomorrow? Nope. Again, it’s all guesswork. But, it does point to an earlier promotion than I originally accounted for in the offseason.