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Atlanta Braves Roundtable: Who was the Braves’ biggest surprise this spring?

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Felix Hernandez certainly turned heads with his performance.

Baltimore Orioles v Atlanta Braves Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images

We continue our roundtable series today with a look at the biggest surprise from Spring Training. The Braves had a number of good performances during the Grapefruit League season but these are the ones that stood out the most to our writers.

Which player surprised you the most with his performance this spring?

Scott Coleman - I’ll say Johan Camargo, who came to camp in excellent shape and put up strong numbers across the board. Maybe I’m living off his 2018 season too much, but I think Camargo can be a serviceable starter at the big league level. Touki Toussaint also looked excellent whenever given the opportunity.

Eric Cole - Honestly, the answer is Felix Hernandez for me. I did not think that he had anything left after a rough couple of years in Seattle which had made me sad because I hold him in such high esteem. He has gone from a long shot for the rotation to a strong candidate with a good spring and Cole Hamels getting injured. The season being delayed clouds that picture on a number of levels, but that he has pitched this well surprised me even if I remain skeptical that it will last.

Garrett Spain - I wasn’t necessarily under the impression that Felix Hernandez had no place in major league baseball, but I didn’t see a universe that saw him pitching well enough to potentially beat out a lot of players in a crowded Braves rotation picture. I’m never would have trusted him to stay healthy over a 30 start season, but if you cut it down to 15-20 as the break may do it really could make this an intriguing season to see what he will do. Felix is still a ballplayer and he proved he can make himself a real option with his spring.

Demetrius Bell - Even though I’m still very skeptical about his chances of succeeding during the regular season, I was thrilled to see Felix do as well as he did during spring training. I honestly thought he was totally cooked and that this would probably result in him starting out the season in the minors. Instead, he’s very likely earned himself a spot on the Opening Day roster and he’s going to make some starts on a good Braves team this year. I’ll be crossing my fingers throughout all of those starts, but he’s absolutely earned the chance to take some more flights as a big league pitcher.

Ivan - Peter O’Brien, your Grapefruit League home run king for 2020. If only he could be a serviceable catcher. C’est la vie.

Wayne Cavadi - Echoing Eric and Garrett, I liked the King Felix signing in a comical way, like, “hey, you get a load of what the Braves did?” It was a minor-league deal and invite, so no harm, no foul. But here he is. CC Sabathia was similar, a hard-throwing hurler that went way too many innings to start his career, and became very serviceable at the end of his career. The way Hernandez pitched this spring, as long as the layoff doesn’t cool him down, he seems like a good signing for a three-month season.

Matt Powers - Spilt between two guys. Felix Hernandez looked like a shell of himself last year in Seattle. It looked like all those innings took their toll on his arm, but he’s back and has been effective this spring. The Braves may have stumbled upon a real piece for essentially nothing. The other guy is Johan Camargo, who wasn’t just bad last year, but had attitude issues that helped him get demoted at one point. Camargo is talented, but I admit I wasn’t expecting a ton from him heading into the spring after what we saw in 2019.

AB - Boy, Shane Langeliers has looked good, hasn’t he? He has really hit well against fringe MLB pitching this spring, after getting off to a slow start in Rome last season. His defense has been strong. The pop time is for real. Hopefully we can ignore 2019 as Shane just getting used to pro ball.

Cory McCartney - From an eye-opening perspective, it’s Shea Langeliers. As further broken down in my Starting Nine, that 1.87 pop time would have the Braves on track for their best since Statcast began tracking it in 2015, and he didn’t disappoint at the plate with a .429/.467/.643 slash line. But come on, the real answer is Felix Hernandez. That deep arsenal, which no longer has that mid-90s fastball as its foundation or the ghost of it as a roadblock, saw right-handers hit a mere .185 against King Felix after posting a .373 wOBA and .289/.347/.555 slash line in 2019. One of the greatest arms of his generation may not have been washed up, he may have just needed a change of scenery and a willingness to reinvent himself.

Anthony Traurig - I’ve been really impressed by Shea Langeliers, too, but I’ll go with Austin Riley. He’s hit to a 1.080 OPS this spring, and even his outs have been hit hard. Perhaps most encouraging is his walk to strikeout ratio, which was a big problem from Riley in 2019. This spring, Riley has walked four times and struck out only five times in 32 plate appearances. With Johan Camargo having a nice spring, as well, I thought Camargo might be the team’s clear choice to start the season, but Riley has made things very interesting so far.

Aaron Huston - There were so many good stories happening in spring training, but I gotta say Austin Riley. He struggled so much after his hot start last season, that I was really curious to see how he’d do once he got back to camp. Riley looks like he belongs. He hasn’t struck out much (5 times) and showing a bit of patience at the plate too.

Shawn Coleman - Austin Riley was awesome to see perform this Spring. He looked focused and confident at the plate, much like he did when he took the MLB by storm last May. While that is hard to expect again, his 5:4 K/BB ratio and four extra base hits in 32 plate appearances are all encouraging (plus a few rather loud outs.) Much like the rotation, Riley showed he has one of the highest natural offensive ceilings on the team, and if the Braves want their best talent in place, Riley must be considered.