The youth rebellion continues on the Atlanta Braves farm. Third base prospect Austin Riley was moved to Triple-A Gwinnett while RHP Bryse Wilson jumped from the Florida State League to Mississippi of the Southern League.
Both promotions were well earned.
Anyone that reads Minor League Ball (or my Twitter feed) with any regularity knows how I feel about Riley. During the 2016 South Atlantic League Rome Braves championship run, I was often heard referring to Riley as the GOAT (albeit somewhat sarcastically, somewhat in awe of how seemingly easily he adjusted as a teenager). Last year, in my Braves midseason Top 20, I took a lot of heat for saying I felt Riley had the best power profile in the system, even over a one Ronald Acuña.
In both 2016 and 2017 the most impressive takeaways of Riley’s play weren’t his numbers, which were impressive in a farm system lacking in power numbers. It was how well he was able to see his flaws and adjust, becoming one of the most feared hitters in the league while one of the youngest hitters in the league at the same time.
At the start of his 2016 in Rome, he looked lost, a talent with tons of raw power, but made Pedro Cerrano look like a good breaking ball hitter. He admittedly sat dead-red, waiting for the fastballs, but he learned how to hit in the second half. Though he still struck out a bit too much, he finished the second half hitting .289 with 17 home runs and a .970 OPS. The same happened last year, and after a slow start in Florida, he handled a promotion to Double-A with surprising ease.
This season, he has been an absolute beast right out of the gates.
Austin Riley is currently tied for the league lead in home runs (6), third in OPS (1.071), 2nd in RBIs, 1st in total bases (67), and first in slugging (.677). He is some kind of good.— Eric Cole, Braves Minor Leagues Guy (@leprekhan) May 6, 2018
What we really needed to see from Riley is continued improvement at the hot corner defensively. A former pitcher, Riley has the arm, but as I said back in 2016, I saw him make great stops, I saw him make great throws, but I rarely saw him make a great stop and throw together as a great play. That’s all changed. He shows range and instincts and makes those great plays we’ve been waiting for. Riley was once seen as a project, he’s now above-average at third, and still improving.
After that impressive 2016 MLB Draft class of pitchers, Wilson was probably not the one many thought would reach Double-A first. But Wilson has been lights out pretty much since his full-season debut.
Four pitchers went before Wilson in that draft, and the three starters are pitching pretty well. Ian Anderson, Joey Wentz, and Kyle Muller have had some rough starts in 2017, but have been looking good of late. Wilson? He just skipped the bad starts and has been utterly dominant.
The first time I saw Wilson, he was a 19-year-old making his home debut in Rome on a Monday night. It wasn’t any old Monday night, however, it was Tim Tebow night and a sold-out crowd of over 5,000 people.
That always stuck with me. It wasn’t his best game, but it wasn’t his worst. He had that moxie, that pitchability if you would, that you could tell early on he would shine. He put up video game numbers last year in his breakout full-season debut to the likes of a 2.50 ERA, a 1.04 WHIP and more than a strikeout per inning pitched. This year in his FSL debut, he was even more absurd.
Wilson leaves the FSL behind with a 0.34 ERA and 0.86 WHIP. He pitched 6.2 innings in each of his final two FSL starts and allowed no runs. That’s who Wilson is.
The 20-year-old righty works fast, maintains his velocity and command deep into games and limits runs. He works a mid-90s fastball that produces a ton of ground balls with sharp slider that gets people chasing with a hard break. I remember the first time I watched Wilson I asked our own (and, of course, Talking Chop’s minor league editor) Eric Cole what to look for and he told me his changeup. Last year, that pitch was behind. Most who have seen him this year say it has surpassed his breaking ball.
The Baby Braves are on the move. It’s an exciting time both on the farm and in the bigs, and Riley and Wilson are two to keep a close eye on.