These two third basemen are trending in opposite directions, it seems. Ke’Bryan Hayes is having himself a fantastic spring, showcasing power that many wondered if he really had. He’s getting ready to make the jump to Triple-A in 2019 where he’ll be 22 all year long and could be the full-time starter in 2020. Riley is about to turn 22 but already has 75 games at the highest minor league level, an accomplishment hard to overlook. There’s a little fatigue on him because he struggled with strikeouts in Triple-A (29 K%) and the Braves signed Josh Donaldson, essentially quelling all hopes of a call up in the early going (though there are reports he’s going to be tried in the outfield). But at the end of the day, these guys are both top 30 prospects, so where do we stand on them?
I was the low man on Hayes in our fantasy top 100, ranking him outside the top 50. I was doubtful the power would eclipse average and I’m usually loathe to assign significant weight to prospects solely because their glove is great. The beauty of working with other great prospect minds is they’re good at identifying trends and one of those trends is Hayes’ emerging power. Jason wrote about why Hayes’ power was coming, pinpointing how he was using his back leg and better balance to drive the ball. So he went from a hit-first corner guy to someone with a strong hit tool and power. To wit, this spring he had seven XBH in just 26 at-bats, including two home runs. While I think it’s no small feat that Riley made it to Triple-A before turning 22, I think part of that was the Braves’ usual aggressiveness and their assumption they’d have any hole there in 2019. Riley needs a little more seasoning to lower his strikeout rate. I’d also want to see him stop being so pull-heavy, as he approached the 50 percent mark last year. It’s an easy way to get exposed. I’m going Hayes here. -Eddy Almaguer
This battle isn’t all that close for me, but I’ve admittedly never been that big of an Austin Riley fan for the reasons Eddy mentioned. The approach is still raw, and while the power is a plus tool, I think the immature hit tool limits the power upside considerably. The Donaldson signing, and the emergence of Johan Camargo have ruled out Riley being a big time contributor in 2019 as well which ends any argument that can be made about proximity.
Hayes is very much trending upwards and if you’ve been with us over at Prospects Live all winter you know this already. Jason did an excellent job of detailing why Hayes is just scratching the surface power wise, and he already has the plate approach and hit tool to succeed even without the emerging power. He also blows Riley out of the water defensively and has a chance to develop into a 5-win player which is something I don’t see for Riley. My vote is for Ke’Bryan Hayes. -Matt Thompson
Well, I see that my piece on Ke’Bryan Hayes’ power has been referenced by the others. You can read it here. You might read this and think I’m crazy to project power with Hayes. That’s OK. Let’s throw projection out the window and talk about what we have with each player at present.
Comparing Hayes to Riley is an interesting case. At present, both are plus defenders at 3rd with Hayes being the best defensive third baseman not named Matt Chapman or Nolan Arenado. He is faster than Riley and his hit tool is plus. Despite Hayes’ emerging power, if you believe in those sorts of things, he will probably never reach the power ceiling of Austin Riley. However, his hit tool is so much better that Hayes should produce more game power simply due to his ability to barrel balls at a much higher rate. Riley is streaky as hell and will hit in bunches. When he is hot, he hits everything. When he is not, he struggles mightily and will rack up the strikeouts. As a Braves fan and someone who has seen Riley in High-A, Double-A, and the AFL, he has made incredible strides on both sides of the ball as well as improving his body and athleticism. The streakiness and swing and miss concerns though lead me to grade his hit tool at 45-50 which is about a .260 average. That will eat into his game power a bit. Hayes’ hit tool is a 60-65, ~.290-.300 hitter at peak who I think will continue to unlock game power. Hayes is a safer bet, better defender, and better hitter. - Jason Woodell
A year ago only Lance Brozdowski, and perhaps Charlie Hayes, would likely have given Ke’Bryan Hayes the nod over Austin Riley, but times have changed. After a season in which Ke’Bryan Hayes reached Double-A and slashed .293/.375/.444, he seems to be the consensus choice. His ability to hit for a high average, get on base, limit strikeouts, and play standout defense at the hot corner make him one of the most polished prospects in the minor leagues. How about Riley? A player everyone seemed so high on just a year ago, why has he lost some luster? It’s funny when you take a step back and look at it. Since first going to the Braves in the compensation round of the 2015, Riley has flashed plus power at all of his MiLB stops, improved by leaps and bounds defensively, and touched AAA by the age of 21. On a club further behind in their build than the Braves Riley likely would have broken into the majors already. In fact he had a shot to get some time in the show last year had it not been for a knee injury. Often overlooked, the knee injury sapped some of Riley’s power upon his return as he struggled and did not homer in the month of July. This leads me to ask are we underrating Riley after an uneven season? Slightly, but the one part of his game that is miles behind Hayes (besides his running) is his ability to make contact. While Hayes might see his K% bump to 18-20% upon his arrival in the majors, it’s easy to see Riley whiffing at a rate of 28-30% upon touch down. Ultimately this combined with his ability to contribute to his team in every possible way gives Hayes the edge for me. Even if he may never have Riley’s plus power, Hayes still shows the potential for a 5 WAR player. - Ralph Lifshitz