When you're 6-foot-3, 220 pounds and hit 12 homers in 60 games during your pro debut, you're likely to be defined by your power. Braves third baseman Austin Riley doesn't mind that so much, just as long as it's not the only thing he's known for.
Riley is playing for the Peoria Javelinas in the Arizona Fall League, working to hone all aspects of his craft. And yes, after two full seasons of 20 homers per year, that does include sending balls over the fence.
"They did tell me they wanted me to keep swinging, try to hit a couple of home runs here and there," Riley said. "The first half of the season, my numbers were a little bit down. They wanted me to focus more on driving the ball."
It's true that Riley did slug just .395 with nine homers in 65 first-half games in the pitching-friendly Florida State League. He upped that to .460 in 16 second-half games before being bumped up to Double-A at age 20, where he promptly slugged .511. It's the second straight season that has seen Riley start slow and finish strong. Perhaps the extra at-bats in the AFL will help him hit the ground running in 2018, as will a continued trend of improved plate discipline.
"I don't know if maybe I need to start my offseason program a little bit earlier, but I'm definitely thinking about next year how I can start that first half how I finished the season," Riley said. "I do notice the strikeouts went down and the walks went up. If I can keep improving that way, I think my odds are just going to get better."
Riley would also like to defy the odds many set for him coming out of the Draft in terms of his ability to stay at third base long-term. It's all part of him developing as an all-around player, and he did cut his errors from 30 in 2016 down to 20 in 2017.
"In Florida, I think I only had like seven up until the Major League All-Star game," Riley said. "Then my body got fatigued and I started making some throwing errors. Overall, I'm moving my feet a lot better than I have been. Getting reps is the biggest thing for me at third.
"As long as I keep my body in good health, good shape, I think I can potentially play third base in the big leagues for a long time. That's just a goal for me that I set personally, to make sure that my body is always in tip-top shape."
Braves hitters in the Fall League
Ronald Acuna, OF -- The top prospect in the AFL this year, Acuna rose to No. 5 overall thanks to going from A ball to Triple-A over the course of the 2017 season. Still just a teenager, he turned in a 20-40 season and is using the Fall League to get ready for what should be his big league debut in 2018.
Alex Jackson, C -- Jackson just finished his first season in the Braves system, coming from the Mariners last November for Rob Whalen and Max Povse. He also finished his first season as a catcher, the position he played when he was the best high school bat in the 2014 Draft class. Adjustments at the plate have unlocked his power and he reached Double-A, with the added work behind the plate in the AFL likely to help him continue to climb the organizational ladder.
Jared James, OF -- As a 34th round pick in the 2016 Draft out of Long Beach State, James has already exceeded expectations in many ways by handling an aggressive jump to Double-A for his first full season. He turned it on in the second half, hitting .321/.388/.464 after the Southern League All-Star break.
Braves pitchers in the Fall League
Corbin Clouse, LHP -- Mostly a starter at Davenport University, the Braves put their 27th-round pick in the 2016 Draft in the bullpen and watched him pitch his way to Double-A in his first full season. Clouse struck out 11.4 per nine during the season, but also walked 5.4 per nine.
Max Fried, LHP -- After a breakout season in 2016 returning from Tommy John surgery, Fried's double-jump to Double-A hit some speed bumps. He did miss a good amount of bats and got a lot of ground-ball outs, but his walk rate and ERA were too high. That said, he made his big league debut and showed he can compete at that level.
Josh Graham, RHP -- Graham initially was a catcher at the University of Oregon and didn't pitch, as a two-way player, until his junior year in 2015. The Braves saw enough to nab him in the fourth round that June and he pitched his way into the Double-A bullpen in his second full season. Across two levels in 2017, Graham held hitters to a .225 batting average against and struck out 9.7 per nine, while walking 4.0 per nine.
Touki Toussaint, RHP -- Toussaint had a bit of an uneven 2017, though he handled the challenge of a late-season bump up to Double-A well, with a .207 BAA and 10 K/9 (also 5 BB/9) in seven starts. After 145 innings across two levels, he's pitching in shorter stints in the AFL.