Austin Riley

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Michael Austin Riley

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Biographical Information[edit]

Austin Riley was a supplemental first round pick in the 2015 amateur draft, being selected 41st overall by the Atlanta Braves out of DeSoto Central High School in Mississippi. Two of his cousins - brothers Keegan and Kamren James - went to the same high school and went on to Mississippi State University before beginning their professional baseball careers with the Colorado Rockies and Tampa Bay Rays systems, respectively. Riley was listed as a third baseman and pitcher at draft time, but was used solely at the hot corner in his first four professional seasons; he began to see time in the outfield in 2019, in anticipation of an imminent call-up to the majors.

He started his pro career on a good note as he hit a combined .304/.389/.544 between the GCL Braves and the Danville Braves, two Rookie-class teams, in 2015. In 2016, he spent a full season with the Rome Braves of the South Atlantic League, where he hit .271 with 39 doubles, 20 homers and 80 RBIs in 129 games. In 2017, he was both in advanced class A with the Florida Fire Frogs and in AA with the Mississippi Braves, and continued to do well, hitting .275/.339/.446 in 129 games. In 2018, he missed a few games due to injury and also made a rehabilitation assignment back in the Gulf Coast League, but otherwise he continued to demonstrate advanced hitting skills as he hit .294 with 30 doubles, 19 homers and 70 RBIs in 108 games, with most of his time coming with the AAA Gwinnett Stripers. He then got off to an incredibly hot start for Gwinett in 2019, as after 37 games, he had already banged 10 doubles and 15 homers and driven in 39 runs.

Riley was called up to Atlanta on May 15, 2019, and made his debut that day starting in left field and batting 6th. It did not take him long to his first long ball, as he connected off Michael Wacha of the St. Louis Cardinals leading off the 4th inning, helping to lead the Braves to a 4-0 win at Sun Trust Park. That was the start of a great run that saw him hit 7 homers in his first 14 games while hitting .375. He hit his first grand slam on May 29th, off Kyle McGowin of the Washington Nationals. He finished May at .356 with 7 homers and 20 RBIs, which was enough to earn him National League Rookie of the Month honors in spite of playing just 15 games. He hit his 10th homer on June 12th, a game-tying shot in the 9th inning against the Pittsburgh Pirates, then went out and scored the winning run in the 11th inning, diving head-first across the plate on a double by Ozzie Albies to give Atlanta an 8-7 win. He was the fastest Braves player to reach 10 homers, needing 26 games, displacing Wally Berger who had taken 29 back in 1930. He ended his first season at .226 in 80 games with 18 homers and 41 RBIs, as he cooled down markedly after his hot start and saw his playing time diminish as a result. In the pandemic-shortened 2020 season, he appeared in 51 of the Braves' 60 games as their regular third baseman, but once again struggled to put up numbers, as he finished at .239 with 8 homers and 27 RBIs, with 49 strikeouts but just 16 walks, for an OPS+ of 86. He appeared in the postseason for the first time, appearing in all 12 games the Braves played, although he was just 8 for 45 (.178) with a single homer.

2021 was Riley's break-out season, as he improved on all fronts, batting .303 with 33 homers and 107 RBIs while playing 160 games, the leading total in the National League. His OPS+ rose all the way to 133 and he won a Silver Slugger Award as the best-hitting third baseman in the circuit. He also finished 7th in the voting for the MVP award. In the postseason, he was part of the Braves team that won its first World Series title since 1995 as he once again started every game, but this time made a big contribution with his bat, hitting .333 in the Division Series against the Milwaukee Brewers and .320 in the World Series against the Houston Astros. He hit 5 doubles and 2 homers during the 16 games, scoring 7 runs and driving in 8. In 2022, he had a great first half, during which he hit .285 in 92 games, with 27 homers and 61 RBIs, to be named to the All-Star team for the first time, as he was now one of the leaders on a very strong Braves team. On August 1st, he signed a 10-year contract extension worth $212 million, making it the biggest contract in team history and the next day was named the National League Player of the Month for July, having hit .423 with 15 doubles, 11 homers, 21 runs and 25 RBIs during the month. In early September, he homered in four straight games for the first time, hitting #35 on the season on September 3rd as he had already set a new season high. He finished the year at .273 in 159 games, with 38 homers and 93 RBIs; his 325 total bases led the NL. The Braves finished tied with the Mets for the NL East lead, but thanks to the tiebreaker were awarded the division title and with it a bye for the Wild Card Series. However, they were surprised by the Philadelphia Phillies in the Division Series as Austin went just 1 for 15 in 4 games. He finished 6th in the MVP voting.

In 2023, he got of to a fast start, with an OPS of .948 through 17 games, then went in a prolonged slump before breaking out of it in mid-May. On May 25th, he put his superior power on display when he hit a pair of homers both measured at 450 feet or more in an 8-5 win over the Phillies. Both long balls were hit off Aaron Nola, in the 1st and 5th innings, and were estimated respectively at 459 and 458 feet. He was just the fourth player of the Statcast era to accomplish this, after Trevor Story, Willson Contreras and Charlie Blackmon - although Story and Blackmon had both done so in the favorable conditions of Coors Field. He was named to the All-Star team once again - in fact, the entire Braves infield played in the game at T-Mobile Park in Seattle, WA - then shortly afterwards, tied a team record by homering in five straight games from July 18-22, with six long balls in a stretch of 17 at-bats, as well as 17 RBIs.

Notable Achievements[edit]

  • 2-time NL All-Star (2022 & 2023)
  • 2-time NL Silver Slugger Award Winner (2021 & 2023)
  • NL Total Bases Leader (2022)
  • 20-Home Run Seasons: 3 (2021-2023)
  • 30-Home Run Seasons: 3 (2021-2023)
  • 100 RBI Seasons: 1 (2021)
  • 100 Runs Scored Seasons: 1 (2023)
  • Won one World Series with the Atlanta Braves in 2021

Further Reading[edit]

  • Mark Bowman: "Riley's MVP case becoming hard to ignore",, July 23, 2022. [1]
  • Mark Bowman: "Riley's power surging with 917 feet on 2 HRs: Braves prevail in first meeting with Phillies after d'Arnaud's pinch-hit heroics",, May 26, 2023. [2]
  • Mark Bowman: "Riley ties Braves record with homer in 5th straight game",, July 23, 2023. [3]

Related Sites[edit]