The Braves enter Spring Training with one big question mark - backup catcher. After Travis d’Arnaud exploded for a 144 wRC+ season that saw him hitting .321/.386/.533 while staying mostly healthy (his biggest struggle) in 44 games, it was clear that he was going to be manning the position in 2021. The question then became, who would be backing him up? Would the Braves re-sign Tyler Flowers? Would the Braves give the Alex Jackson the opportunity despite his limited success on the offensive end? Might we see the No. 9 overall pick from the 2019 draft, Shea Langeliers, take the reigns? Or, would the Braves turn to William Contreras, who we have rated as the number four prospect in the organization?
The Braves are in the unusual position where they have a glut of potential impact catchers fighting for their backup spot — two of which, Langeliers and Contreras, are really eyeing the eventual starting spot. Despite Langeliers’ high draft position, this battle is extremely close because of the potential offensive upside of Contreras outweighing the defensive floor of Langeliers. When perusing Contreras’s stats you would assume he would be considered a top prospect in all of baseball because of his good defensive presence behind the plate, and his potential production on the offensive side of the plate. In his minor league career, which consists of five seasons, William has put up a wRC+ of at least 100 on five of his seven teams. That’s very impressive production from a catcher who throws out roughly 30 percent of would be base stealers as well as being highly regarded by his pitching staffs.
Contreras began to make his case last year as he was thrust into action because of a COVID scare with d’Arnaud and Flowers at the start of the season. He and Alex Jackson memorably filled in for the duo, but it was really Contreras who stood out the most. The sample size is tiny — 10 plate appearances — but Contreras hit .400/.400/.500 (142 wRC+), including this RBI double against the Mets.
Once d’Arnaud and Flowers returned to the roster, Contreras didn’t play again but he made sure he would be remembered.
Fast forward to 2021 and pitchers and catchers have already resumed training and Contreras is already showing off his potential with the bat.
The only thing going against Contreras is his age and experience. At just 23, he is pretty young for a catching prospect. With just 60 games at Double-A, you would like to see him get some experience against more mature arms in the high minors before having him make a case in the majors. To add on, a promotion to the bigs for Contreras would mean a strictly backup role in 2021, so it may be better for him to continue developing through daily reps in the minors... but you know Contreras is going to make that as difficult a decision as possible.
After focusing on his defensive development for years, you could make a case that Contreras’ floor is that of MLB backup catcher, where he could have a very long career. However, with his re-tooled swing and confidence quickly rising, he has the potential of becoming a top catcher in all of baseball. I don’t foresee Contreras playing in Atlanta in 2021, barring an epic Spring Training, but he should have his eyes on the starting catcher position in 2022.