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Atlanta Braves: Austin Riley and the third base prospects ready for ‘19

The hot corner is always a fun position when it comes to prospects. You often see great bats and a whole lot of work needed defensively.

It’s no different in the next crop coming off the farm.

So far at Minor League Ball, we’ve taken a look at first and second base prospects ready for a 2019 MLB debut. You missed them? Fear not:

Vladimir Guerrero, Jr., Toronto Blue Jays

File under the “no duh” department. Guerrero, Jr. is a special talent, one in which I ruffled some feathers here in my opinion that his hit tool is in rarified air.

There really isn’t much left to write about Guerrero. He’s 19 and he’s hit everywhere he’s ever been. He chased .400 this season (.381/.437/.636 across High-A, Double-A, and Triple-A) and he continues to do so in the Arizona Fall League, where he is off to a 6-for-9 start.

Donaldson was traded and there is a new regime in Toronto. He may get the Ronald Acuña, Jr. treatment (or Kris Bryant if you prefer) to start the season, but he should be getting regular licks in the bigs much sooner than later. The only reason the Blue Jays could hold him back is to transition him off the hot corner, where defensively, he has many a critic.

Austin Riley, Atlanta Braves

I have always been higher on Riley than most minor league writers and I’m ok with that. It isn’t necessarily the numbers he puts up, but the awareness of his flaws and constant improvements that make him special.

When Riley started in 2016 full season, he was a free swinger who struggled defensively making plays. By season’s end, he was arguably the best slugger in the South Atlantic League and showed development at third. The same thing happened in 2017 split between the Florida State and Southern League, but even more so than his hit tool becoming sharper, he began to show the range and footwork needed to last at third (that’s not saying he’s a Gold Glover, people, calm down).

This season, there was no down time. Riley seemed to take all that he had learned and came out of the gate hot and stayed that way. He reached Triple-A and there were plenty of calls for his name in Atlanta, especially with the aggressive approach the Braves took with their pitchers. All of these factors is why Riley came in at No. 2 in my midseason top 20 Braves prospect list. By June of next season, he likely won’t be eligible for the midseason review.

Ke’Bryan Hayes, Pittsburgh Pirates

The 21-year-old third baseman with baseball in his blood made his Double-A debut in 2018. When you can make the argument that it was his best year in professional baseball facing the most advanced pitching of his career, you are talking about a special prospect ready to fly.

The right-hander posted a .293/.375/.444 slash line with an impressive .819 OPS. There’s a lot to like about his compact swing, which generates power to all fields, and as he’s matured into his frame, he is clearly developing more over-the-fence pop as well. His plate awareness has also matured, striking out just 84 times in 508 plate appearances, and with 39 stolen bases over the last two seasons, he clearly has a quick first step on the base paths.

Where young Hayes could surpass his father is in his defense. Winner of two-straight Gold Gloves, Hayes has good instincts, great range, and seemingly more power in what was an already strong arm. Of course, he’ll still have to make this play to surpass his father.

(I am Yankees fan, you didn’t think I’d pass up this opportunity, did you?)

The wild cards

Ryan Mountcastle, Baltimore Orioles

File under the “why the hell not” category. Mountcastle hasn’t taken a Triple-A at bat yet, but with the roster the Orioles have in place, he could contend for a starting spot in March.

That likely won’t happen because of his defense, but Mountcastle is showing he is a solid player. Our own John Sickels had him at No. 2 entering the season and a strong campaign should have that hold up entering 2019. Here’s what John said in the midseason review:

…fine season in Double-A, .298/.347/.474 with 12 homers, 26 walks, 69 strikeouts in 346 at-bats; showing no ill effects from broken hand in the spring; main question remains defense, as he’s been substandard at both third base and shortstop but there are few doubts about the bat.

After splitting time between short and third last season, Mountcastle played exclusively at third base in Bowie. He still made an unacceptable 16 errors in just 181 total chances, and though I haven’t seen it personally, I have not read or heard many a rave review about his arm strength. That said, his bat is a good one, showing a nice right-handed swing that generates power to all fields (he hit 48 doubles the season prior when he was fully healthy) that can hit the gaps or clear the wall. He’s never going to walk much, but he doesn’t strike out a tremendous amount either. His splits are a bit peculiar as well. This year he crushed right-handers and struggled against southpaws, while last year was the complete opposite. Keep me guessing, Mountcastle, I like your style.

Already moved off shortstop, there is definitely reason to believe Mountcastle will reach the bigs thanks to his bat, but it just may not be at the hot corner.

Michael Chavis/ Bobby Dalbec, Boston Red Sox

I know what you’re saying. How can two third base prospects debut in the same season? It’s a good question, but bear with me.

Chavis, of course, is coming off that suspension, but he is the more advanced bat. He’s also the worse third basemen (in my opinion) of the two, so if may likely reach the big leagues as an outfielder or even a second baseman, where he could more quickly fill a hole in the Red Sox ridiculous lineup. Chavis’ power is fun to watch, and he is learning how to become more of a hitter than just a slugger.

Dalbec is my favorite between the two. He broke out in a big way in the power department this year, blasting 32 home runs and 35 doubles. He, too, will strike out a bunch, but he (normally) walks at a better rate than Chavis. While he is no Nolan Arenado, he seems to have better instincts and arm at third.

The problem for both is Rafael Devers. It will be tough for either to supplant the young third baseman, but after watching Eduardo Nunez throw the ball from third, it is possible the Red Sox will want to see what one of their young prospects could do in the reserve role, and that’s why I think at least one of these two make their big league debut next season.

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