NORTH PORT, Fla. -- With Opening Day three weeks away, the remainder of Spring Training will provide a clearer picture of what the Braves will have to work with during the regular season. But the first half of camp has already intensified interest in some of those players who have either made significant strides or taken another step toward reaching the Majors.
Here are some of the players who have most impressed their teammates thus far.
Third baseman Austin Riley
Riley’s monstrous home run in Tuesday’s loss to the Rays reminded us of the tremendous power he displayed while homering once every 11.8 at-bats through his first six weeks as a Major Leaguer last year. More importantly, he has struck out just three times through his first 19 plate appearances. That’s quite encouraging considering that Riley had a 42-percent strikeout rate over last season’s final three months. He’s vying to be Atlanta’s starting third baseman, but there’s a chance he’ll need to prove himself at Triple-A Gwinnett before being given the role.
Quote: “I was standing on second base when he hit that double off [Zach] Eflin on Monday night. That ball whizzed over my head and hit the center-field wall. That’s impressive -- and he did it against a slider. We know what he is capable of doing, and from everything I’ve seen, he’s ready to get back to where he was when he came up last year.” -- Freddie Freeman
Catcher Shea Langeliers
Taken out of Baylor University with the ninth overall pick in last year’s MLB Draft, Langeliers is creating excitement as he prepares for his first full professional season. His rocket arm produced a pop time of 1.87 (elite for the MLB level) with a throw he made to second base during his spring debut. The 22-year-old catcher, who will likely begin the season with Class A Advanced Florida, has gone 3-for-7 with a homer in Grapefruit League games.
Quote: “You can see it with his arm and his hitting -- he’s awesome. I got a chance to talk to him a little bit in the dugout. He seems like a cool guy. He plays the game right.” -- Ozzie Albies
Right-hander Ian Anderson and left-hander Tucker Davidson
Anderson, who is Atlanta's No. 3 prospect and ranks No. 37 overall on MLB’s Top 100 Prospects list, has allowed one run and five hits over 2 2/3 innings thus far. He will begin the season with Triple-A Gwinnett, but there’s a chance he could reach the Majors this year.
Davidson’s stock rose rapidly last year and he has continued to impress while allowing three hits over four scoreless innings in three appearances. The best bet is he’ll begin this season in Gwinnett’s rotation, but there’s a chance Atlanta will opt to carry him as a lefty reliever.
Quote: “Catching Anderson and Davidson for the first time after hearing about them for a couple years, I could see it just from playing catch before I even squat down to catch them. It’s like, ‘This guy has a lively arm.’ It’s not often you’re impressed with the first warmup toss. But with those two guys I could see it.” -- Tyler Flowers
First baseman Bryce Ball
Taken out of Dallas Baptist University in the 24th round last June, Ball has a chance to be a steal. Defense was a concern, but Ron Washington has been impressed with the 6-foot-6 slugger’s dedication to essentially learn the first-base position. The 21-year-old prospect hit 17 homers while totaling just 234 at-bats with Rookie-level Danville and Class A Rome last year. Ball has the potential to reach the Double-A level at some point this year.
Quote: “Talking to him, he was used mainly as [a designated hitter] while in college, but he’s played good defense at first and he has a lot of power. He’s a giant. The more he gets to play every day, I think we’re going to see him just continue to get better.” -- Riley