I almost wrote about this two weeks ago for the column, but I thought to myself: let’s give it some time. After 17 games, the rookie has been a big hit with Atlanta (pun fully intended), smacking .328 with eight home runs and 22 RBIs. He has also hit eight home runs in his first 16 games in the big leagues, becoming only the fourth player in major league history to do so. Riley was just named the National League Rookie of the Month for May. The 22-year-old is quickly establishing a name for himself offensively, similar to Ronald Acuna and Ozzie Albies. Young talent is taking Atlanta by storm, as the Braves now look to have three of their eight regular starters under age 23 (not counting the pitcher’s spot due to the position’s natural rotation).
However, if Riley will be a daily occurrence in the starting lineup, where does that leave guys like Josh Donaldson, Johan Camargo and, a name very familiar to this community, Charlie Culberson? Donaldson’s hitting .253 as of June 4 and Camargo at .214. Donaldson has shown patience at the plate, reaching base on 34 walks, but between him and Camargo, I cannot help but think the two will be fighting for playing time at third base, and in left and right field. Turning the focus to Culberson, he’s a guy that can play at every position, literally. He pitched in a game already this season. When afforded opportunities, he has not missed often. He’s swinging a solid bat right now at .378 on the season (as of June 4) with three homers, 11 RBIs and collected his first triple of 2019 in the series finale against the Detroit Tigers on Sunday.
Austin Riley has provided a spark to the Atlanta offense, continuing the Braves’ trend of young talent making headways in the major league club starting lineup. However, this rise in the youth has created some questions in regards to who will be in the starting nine and who will be receiving playing time.