Austin Riley, newest Braves sensation, homered last night. This was his third home run in his sixth game with the Braves. With every home run and a base hit, it becomes clearer that Riley isn’t going to be sent back to AAA anytime soon. What does this mean for Inciarte?
Austin Riley got a chance to show off his bat in the majors because of his incredible numbers, 15 home runs in 37 games with the AAA team, and Ender Inciarte going on the shelf to deal with a stiff back. Riley has made the most of his opportunity. In six games, a very, very small sample size, Riley has hit 6 home runs with a batting average over .400. Strikeouts have also been an issue for Riley, but that is to be expected from a young player. One walk in his first six games would show a lack of discipline at the plate, but that is an issue that can be worked out over time. Something that can’t be worked on or taught is Riley’s power. Adding his bat to the Braves lineup has invigorated the offense while giving the Braves lineup more depth that opposing pitchers have to deal with.
Ender Inciarte, a three-time Gold Glove winner, will be returning from injury soon. Ender isn’t, and never has been, in the lineup for his offense. Ender is a defensive specialist who can provide some offense from time-to-time, but he will never provide the kind of power Riley can. So the question is, offense or defense? Ronald Acuna Jr. has taken Inciarte’s center field role while Riley has taken up in left field. Acuna isn’t the defender that Inciarte is, but his speed and athleticism can save him in most situations. Yes, an outfield of Inciarte, Acuna, and Markakis is better than one with Riley, a natural third baseman, but the offense Riley provides will be much more valuable in the long run.
If the Braves do stick with Riley, which they should, the team will have a valuable trade commodity in Ender Inciarte. Inciarte is still a Gold Glove caliber centerfielder, something that is always valuable in baseball. It’s impossible to predict if Inciarte would be willing to play a bench/platoon role with the team as a base runner and defensive specialist to throw in late in games. I don’t see that being an option for the Braves, Inciarte is still too good to be riding the bench. With such a gaping hole in the bullpen still, the Braves can package Inciarte in a deal to find some help for the back of the bullpen.
The Braves have an issue on their hands, however, a very good problem to have. The team will have to decide between a prospect who is bursting onto the scene in a big way or an award-winning centerfielder who can steal bases for you. It’s not an easy decision to make, but I have a feeling the Braves will go with Riley. Austin Riley, no matter what happens this season, is the third baseman of the future for the Braves. Ender Inciarte is an aging centerfielder who doesn’t hit very well. His days are numbered. The Braves need to use Inciarte while they still have him and his value is high. If the Braves do find a trade, the team can be greatly improved for the upcoming NL East battle. It makes no sense to leave Inicarte on the team in a bench role. The Braves need to trade Inciarte while they can.