After I saw the magic of Atlanta Braves’ third baseman Austin Riley in the 9th inning of last night’s win, I couldn’t help but think to myself: what happened to the guy that should have been in that spot? What happened to Johan Camargo?
Back in 2017, the Braves were not very good. They finished the previous season 68-93, good for 5th in the NL East. They had strong offensive players in the outfield and a bona fide star in 1st baseman Freddie Freeman. The rest of their infield, though, left much to be desired. It was no big deal, however, because the shortstop of the future in Dansby Swanson had just made his mark on the big leagues, hitting .302 with a 115 OPS+ in the 38 games he played with the club at the end of the season. Plus, diminutive second baseman Ozzie Albies was on his way to making it to the MLB as well. The infield was almost complete with new talent. They just needed to find a prospect to solidify third base, and they would have a contender. Enter: Johan Camargo.
Route Through the Minor Leagues
In 2015, Camargo was the #24 prospect in the Braves minor league system, notably behind Swanson (1), Albies (2), Riley (20), and a fourth infielder in Rio Ruiz (12). Camargo was seen at the time as a decent fielder and contact hitter, but not considered to have much power. He only hit 1 home run that year in the minors, and the lack of production dropped him out of the top 30 in 2016, leapfrogged by four more infielders. Camargo spent most of that season playing third in AA, next to Swanson and Albies. He improved some on his 2015 numbers, and was added to the 40 man roster after the season. After starting the year off in AAA, he got his callup on April 11, 2017. He played well in his 82 games that year, hitting .299 with a .782 OPS. It was clear the Braves had something here.
Takeover and Decline
2018 would be Camargo’s breakout year. After taking over the starting third baseman duties in May, he played in 134 games on the year. In this time, he shocked many by hitting 19 home runs to go along with his .272 AVG and 115 OPS+. Not bad for someone with a 30 rated power tool.* At this point, it seemed clear the Braves were set all around the infield.
2019 would prove a difficult one for Camargo. After the Braves made the playoffs in 2018, they decided to make a big splash to become frontrunners. In November, they signed Josh Donaldson to a 1 year, $23 million dollar deal. It seems this demotion really hurt Camargo, as he played in 98 games in the 2019 season, many coming in as a pinch hitter or late inning replacement. Even after he took over at shortstop when Dansby Swanson got injured, he struggled both on offense and defense before being sent to AAA in August. It’s possible his defense struggles, at least, were due to some extra weight he was carrying. It didn’t help that Austin Riley also made it to the big leagues that year, shrinking playing time even further.
Before the 2020 season, Donaldson left for Minnesota, giving Camargo a chance to take his spot back. However, he continued to struggle, and though he played in 35 out of the 60 games this year, Riley was the main guy at third. On the season, Camargo hit .200/.244/.267, playing right around replacement level.
So What Happened?
It seems to me Camargo was well on his way to become a very decent player, but the hit his confidence took in 2019 is something he hasn’t been able to overcome. After a breakout year, the team still decided to sign his position away, and that probably made him question what the Braves really thought of him. And now, with another young player pushing past him, it probably made him feel worse. I still don’t think he’s a bad player though. If he goes to the right team, he can be a great infield piece, especially where he can move around depending where your other key pieces play.
*in case you don’t know, MLB prospect grades are on a 20-80 scale, so 30 is really not that good.
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– Pat Shuman (@PShu1996 on Twitter)