Baseball: Marquis Riley takes spring training in Atlanta Braves organization as learning experience
By Tim Tierney For Sun-Times Media June 23, 2014 9:18PM
Marquis Riley, of the Joliet Slammers. | Tim Tierney/For Sun-Times Media
Updated: July 25, 2014 6:23AM
From North Carolina A&T to the Joliet Slammers to spring training with the Atlanta Braves, Marquis Riley is climbing the baseball ladder.
The 2013 Frontier League All-Star second baseman didn’t catch on with the Braves in his first shot at affiliated ball, but Riley is back with the Slammers this season, working toward another chance to play at the next level.
“I went into it as a learning opportunity,’’ Riley said. “I wanted to take in as much as I could, learn as much as I could. I went in wanting to make a team.
“Leaving, I was thankful for my opportunity, glad I got the experience. Now I know for myself I can play at that level.’’
The 23-year-old native of Efland, North Carolina, batted .301 last year in his rookie season with the Slammers and led the team in hits, runs and games played.
Those numbers led to an offseason call from the Braves, who offered Riley a chance to compete for a roster spot in High A or Low A. Signed as an undrafted free agent, Riley reported in late February to the Braves’ spring training in Orlando, Florida.
“It was definitely an eye-opening experience,’’ he said. “I didn’t know what to expect. I had a couple of guys who played affiliated ball told me a little, but I had never been a part of anything like that.’’
A couple of weeks into spring training, Riley’s roommate posed an interesting question.
“He asked me, ‘Do you feel the same walking into this complex as you did the first day?’ ’’ Riley said. “This was Day 15 of spring training and my response was, ‘Yeah, man. It’s a blessing to be here. I’m thankful for the opportunity.’ ’’
Riley was able to play in four intrasquad games and two spring training contests before he was released with two weeks left in camp.
“Affiliated ball, there were a lot of guys who can play the game, but their tools stood out more. That’s what they told me,’’ Riley said. “ ‘You don’t do one thing extremely well, but you do a lot of things very well.’ ’’
If Riley can hit with more power, that could improve his chances of moving on from independent baseball.
“In Low A or High A, I feel I can put up the numbers anybody else is going to put up,’’ he said. “But in order for them to give me a shot, that’s what I feel they’re looking for ... For them to pick me up as a free agent, it’s about standing out at that level.’’
Riley had offers from other Frontier League teams this year, but he wanted to remain “loyal’’ to the club that signed him.
“I enjoy playing here,’’ he said. “I love playing in the ballpark.’’
Riley is hitting .307 with two home runs and 15 RBI. He’s played second base and the outfield for first-year Joliet manager Jeff Isom.
“Absolutely, he’s got an opportunity,’’ Isom said of Riley moving up. “There’s a lot to like about him.’’
Isom managed in the Milwaukee Brewers system, a fact not lost on Riley as he looks to the future.
“We talk a lot,’’ Riley said. “He’s coached affiliated players, and that’s where I’m trying to get to.’’