On Friday, I spent part of the post gushing over the adjustments by William Contreras in a couple sim games that week. He was perhaps the best performer among hitters last week, which is very noteworthy for multiple reasons.
One, Contreras was the highest-graded prospect to get consistent playing time in the sim games. In fact, he was the only prospect to see the field besides Alex Jackson, who technically remains on the system list. This time allowed Contreras to show off a frame that’s filling out, a cleaner, more direct swing, and his sneaky good raw power.
Two, Contreras is coming off a rough 2019 in which he struggled to adapt to Double-A pitching while focusing on shoring up his defense behind the plate. As I’ve said, he needed a full 2020 season more than most prospects in order to rebound from last year, so making the most of his time in these games is important for his confidence and prospect value.
In the span of four plate appearances over two days, he homered to right-center, singled on a line the other way, and worked two deep counts in which he tracked the ball very well. He looked extremely comfortable at the plate against major league pitching.
Contreras’s performance isn’t the only positive to take from the sim games, though:
Adjustments by William Contreras
As you can see in the side-by-side video (thanks to the great Grant McAuley for creating this), Contreras has made significant adjustments to his swing since his first full pro season in 2018.
The swing on the left is the one I saw when I first wrote up the catcher at Low-A Rome. While there was length and an inconsistent bat path, the framework was there for a solid, athletic stroke. That swing was unusually loose and athletic for a young catcher, and there was an explosiveness you want to see from a 20-year-old. The hips cleared and he used his lower half very well. The hands were quick to the zone because of his natural twitchy athleticism, and he exploded through the ball with very good loft.
The issue with the left swing was inconsistency born out of length. He gathered his entire momentum deep on his back side before generating it to the front side at fire. His load was deep both in the hands and body, which created a long path to the zone. That left him susceptible to getting beat between pitches and producing an inconsistent swing plane.
Despite the inconsistencies, I went all in on Contreras’s bat and overall profile at the time because of the natural looseness and athleticism that you rarely see in a catcher. Not many were talking about his power, but it was above-average raw even then. I thought he would at least reach an average hit tool and his game power would match it, if not reach above on both.
William Contreras, Too Soon for Two-A?
The 2019 season was a reminder that raw catchers can go different ways developmentally. Contreras focused on shoring up his defense, which remained raw receiving-wise. He was pushed to Double-A before the bat was ready, and he struggled to keep his head above water. At the same time, adjustments were being made at the plate and that athleticism hadn’t gone anywhere. You don’t give up on an ultra-athletic catching prospect that quickly, which is why I held my grades and kept him as my highest-graded catcher in the Braves system despite the emergence of Shea Langeliers.
Fast forward to these sim games and the swing on the right. This is the swing that will help Contreras reach the grades on which I held firm.
Analysis of a Swing
He remains tall but is much more balanced between his front and back sides, similar to Ronald Acuña Jr. before the load. There’s a simple weight transfer from load to fire, and his hands are in an optimal position to fire, which is triggered by a controlled leg kick. Despite toning down his load, Contreras hasn’t lost his explosiveness through the ball, clearing his lower half very well and letting his hands explode. He also continues to show a good ability to stay inside and let his raw power carry the ball to the deep parts of right-center. A more balanced swing also helps him cover the outer half better and with more consistent, impact contact.
The swing on the right allows Contreras to tap into his feel to hit with a more consistent bat path. He’s always had an idea at the plate and sees the ball well, but a cleaner, more direct stroke allows him to barrel it up more often. This in turn allows him to tap into his raw power more often, evident in the video above when he stayed within himself, remained balanced and barreled it up for a right-center bomb.
Something else that allows him to stay controlled and tap into that power? A frame that’s filling out. Contreras looks noticeably stronger in both halves, especially a thicker lower half. He’s no longer as much of a wiry, projectable athlete. He has filled out to become a strong, durable catcher while maintaining his twitchy athleticism.
Yes, it’s just a sim game against pitchers who are ramping up for the season, but the difference is in the swing and frame. Contreras has made significant adjustments to help utilize his across-the-board tools. That’s why your eyes should be drawn to looseness and twitchy athleticism when watching prospects. That’s why I stuck with Contreras as the highest-graded catcher in the system.
Thanks for reading David Lee’s breakdown on William Contreras. Find more breakdowns of Braves prospects over at David’s newsletter, which is the best coverage in the system, and check out all of our pieces on Braves prospects right here.