If this is Johan Camargo’s showcase to secure the Braves’ starting third base job beyond 2018, he’s been doing a remarkable job.
Camargo didn’t assume the regular third base role until late May. Injuries derailed him early in the season. His rookie season was a pleasant surprise, but detractors pointed to his luck, specifically his favorable results with the ball in play.
Not only was 2017 legitimate, but he’s unearthing even more potential. Camargo homered in each of the first two games at Arizona, his third time going yard in back-to-back games, bringing his season total to 17. He’s hit all but two of those since May 20, the day he took over starting duties.
His 15 over that span are second most on the Braves, trailing his close friend and rookie-of-the-year favorite Ronald Acuna. Camargo has hit around the lineup, mostly in the fifth spot, but his homer Friday came directly behind Acuna in the two-hole.
He added a pair of doubles that night, almost single-handedly willing the Braves back into a game they eventually lost 5-3. Camargo also was responsible for a spectacular snag and throw from his knees earlier in the night.
“He’s a highlight reel,” manager Brian Snitker said. “Offensively, defensively, the kid’s playing unbelievable. He’s maturing, growing. He’s come so far. He’s showing us he’s a legit guy.”
Camargo’s power has been a revelation, but perhaps it shouldn’t be. He worked diligently on his body in the offseason. He came to spring training looking bigger. He’s unlocking a new aspect of his game as he continues consistently playing.
He’s a switch-hitter with pop. He’s an athletic defender who’s range and arm strength leave room for ample ‘wow’ moments. As Snitker said, he’s had one of the stronger arms in the organization for a long time.
He’s well-received in the clubhouse, holding an especially tight bond with Ozzie Albies and Acuna. And he’s only 24 years old.
Camargo wasn’t one of the lauded prospects coming up. Perhaps that makes his voyage all the more engrossing.
“He’s got good skills,” Snitker said. “He’s worked really hard. He goes into the offseason and plays winter ball. That’s probably why he’s here. He’s just going to continue to get better. He’s going to get bigger. He’s going to get stronger.”
Camargo’s hit .400 (16-for-40) with four homers, two doubles and eight RBIs over his past 11 games prior to Saturday. With Freddie Freeman and Nick Markakis enduring rare elongated slumps, the Braves have needed someone to fill the void.
Enter Camargo. If he persists in his recent endeavors, the Braves might have a much easier time evaluating their needs in the winter. Sure, Camargo could ultimately be a super utility guy, but with his play improving as time goes on, that label needn’t be slapped on him just yet.
“I think he’s done a lot that, as they go into the offseason and they’re looking, they might be able to take the money and put it somewhere else,” Snitker said. “The guys who would compare to him, you’re not going to be able to get because they’re on other teams. Where are you going to go find that guy, who at the end of the year, has his resume? We’ve already got him. I don’t know. ... It’s good for them to see this as they plan going forward.”