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State of the Braves: Travis d’Arnaud leads deep catching core

d’Arnaud, Piña and two promising youngsters have the Braves positioned well for the future

MLB: World Series-Atlanta Braves Championship Parade John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports

As Major League Baseball hits pause and we await the new Collective Bargaining Agreement, the Atlanta Braves continue to bask in their World Series glory.

With no transactions for at least another couple weeks, this presents an opportunity to take a look at the organization as a whole. With the Braves playing into November this past season, there was minimal chance to evaluate where the organization stands heading into an important offseason.

How is the roster situated for 2022 and beyond? Where is there depth and where could there be holes down the road? First up in the series is catcher.

The Present

For the better part of 30 years, the Braves have been blessed with outstanding catching.

Things went awry in 2021 as Travis d’Arnaud found himself on the injured list for the summer months, but he returned in time for the championship run. He provided steady value behind the plate while flashing power as he distanced himself from a thumb sprain that required surgery. The Braves then offered d’Arnaud a two-year extension worth $16 million — the deal identical to the one he signed prior to the 2020 season — locking in the 33-year-old backstop for the next couple seasons. Assuming he can avoid the injury bug (which is far from a guarantee, unfortunately), d’Arnaud figures to be the club’s top catching option in 2022.

It was a mild surprise when the Braves signed veteran Manny Piña to a two-year deal in November. Many figured the young William Contreras would get a chance to handle backup duties, but the front office clearly valued adding another veteran to pair with d’Arnaud, especially after the mad scramble last summer as Kevan Smith — remember him? — became the everyday starter. Piña is a modern-day player in that he hits almost exclusively for power while providing strong defense and off-field work. He should fit in nicely while rotating with d’Arnaud every few days.

It’s always a risk with two catchers on the wrong side of 30, but this unit projects to be one of the better catching tandems in the league next season.

The Future

Catching talent is scarce. In addition to a strong big league situation, the Braves happen to have two of the best catching prospects in the game in William Contreras and Shea Langerliers.

Contreras, who Braves fans have seen in a limited capacity the last two seasons, figures to catch with the Gwinnett Stripers barring a trade this winter. It feels like an important year for William’s development.

Langeliers, taken No. 9 overall in the 2019 draft, will find himself on every top-100 prospect list this winter. Perhaps even the top 50. Shea needs to continue working on his approach at the plate, but the raw power and outstanding work behind the plate make him an exciting prospect to watch.

Catchers tend to develop at a slower rate than others, but the Braves have valuable depth here at a position of constant need.

Bottom Line

While not overly familiar with the catching situations for the other 29 organizations, it’s tough to imagine many having it better than Atlanta. Assuming health cooperates, d’Arnaud and Piña form a strong 1-2 tandem at the top, with Contreras and Langerliers waiting in the wings. There is no rush with either prospect, and additional seasoning in the minors is likely best for all parties involved. It’s an enviable situation to be in.

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