Where Do We Go From Here: Part 6, Catcher

If you’re late to the series, get caught up here:

Unlike so many contributors here, I do not follow minor league baseball. So I’m generally handicapped in these “Where Do We Go From Here” stories because I’m ignorant. But this year, I watched every minor league game played at every level, so I’m caught up with you guys, at least until some of you start reporting from Winter Ball in Tierra del Fuego or somewhere.

In any case, that makes catcher pretty easy. We have Travis d’Arnaud (who my wife calls The Duck) and he had a 2020 that far outstripped what was expected of him, though not out of line with his short stint with the Rays in 2019, so it just might, barring injury, represent a sustainable level of performance. If I had told you last December that you would be happy with d’Arnaud hitting cleanup, I’m not sure you’d have believed me, but there are really a lot of things I could have told you last December that you wouldn’t have believed and turned out to be true. d’Arnaud’s future is probably not as the Braves cleanup hitter, but even at a solid 6th or 7th he’s a major upgrade from Flowers. (How much better he is than Kurt Suzuki is an open question, but this is an article about where we’re going, not where we’ve been. And d’Arnaud is 6 years younger than Suzuki.)

I was very impressed with d’Arnaud’s performance behind the plate in the playoffs. He really moves around back there and blocks everything. You can’t do that all season (and you don’t need to) but it does tell me that he’s plenty athletic behind the dish. And Ian Anderson seems to love him. That’s about all I need to know.

Travis is signed through next year. Tyler Flowers will not return (I think… see below). The backup catching duties have three prospects: William Contreras, Alex Jackson and Shea Langeliers. The great thing about no MiLB is that there are probably three people on the planet who know which of them is ready, and they’re not talking. My take: Contreras is ready, Jackson will be around in case of injury, and Langeliers isn’t ready yet. I’m perfectly happy to be wrong about these guesses, because that’s all they are.

Contreras has the pedigree as the brother of Willson Contreras. Travis d’Arnaud is better at baseball than his brother, so there’s no reason William Contreras can’t be better than his. Contreras is only 22, has under 60 games of experience beyond A-Ball, but is a lifetime 0.400 major league hitter. I see no reason he can’t keep that up.

Alex Jackson was a first round draft pick by the Mariners in 2014 and is only 24, but there is precious little evidence that he can hit well enough to be a major league catcher. By that I mean he hits like Tyler Flowers. (That was mean. I apologize to Tyler Flowers.) The Braves acquired him in the Max PovseRob Whalen trade. Both of them are out of baseball, so I guess the Braves won that trade. But he has real potential, just not as much as Contreras or Langeliers.

Shea Langeliers, the Braves #1 pick (9th overall) in the 2019 draft out of Baylor is, like Contreras, also 22. The fact that Braves used Contreras and Jackson in 2020 ought to tell you they don’t think Langeliers is ready yet, but I presume he’ll get a good look in Spring Training. He’s not on the 40-man roster, unlike Jackson and Contreras. Fun Note: Langeliers’ middle name is Ryan, and when he appears for the Braves they will have had both Ryan Langerhans and S. Ryan Langeliers on their team. I only mention this because I keep wanting to call him Ryan.

So the Braves have a catcher they love and three very young prospects. Is there any chance they’ll resign Tyler Flowers to give those three another chance to mature? I don’t see it, especially in a year where they’re trying to save payroll, i.e., every year. I suspect all three will get a serious look in Spring Training and the backup role will go to whoever does best, with the other two in the wings, ready to go. In an ideal world, you wouldn’t want to be leaning so heavily on Travis d’Arnaud and kids. (Although in 1971 the Braves started a 22 year old at catcher and he won Rookie of the Year.) But it’s not a bad bet to make while you address other issues and save money. Last year the Braves were 6th in MLB in Catcher salary. (The Duck is the 7th highest-paid catcher, which I admit surprised me a bit. Nobody is paid nearly as much as Buster Posey, which makes me laugh. And the Mets pay Wilson Ramos $2.4 million more than d’Arnaud, the catcher they cut in 2019 and who produced 3 times the WAR in 2020, which reminds me that no one ever went broke betting against the Mets front office and medical staff.) Clearing Flowers’ $4 million (tied for 18th among all MLB catchers) and replacing it with a guy at the league minimum saves about $3.4 million. John Malone probably needs the money.

Author: JonathanF

Alive since 1956. Braves fan since 1966. The first ten years were pretty much wasted. Exiled to Yankees/Mets territory in 1974 --- bearable only with TBS followed by MLB.TV.

27 thoughts on “Where Do We Go From Here: Part 6, Catcher”

  1. Just a thought. Maybe its just me… but the articles roll out so quickly that the conversation that the ‘bar’ is having within each one isn’t really allowed to get going. It seems kind of dumb to complain about content rolling out but there isn’t time to get any discussion. Even if you just waited a few hours even maybe it could run its course more.

    I’ve long thought that this blog needs a message board.

    I promise I am not just being “Chief” this is my own opinion.

  2. Some comments can definitely get JC’ed. But was there a particular conversation topic that you felt was curtailed? In my opinion, most of the best conversations here are only tangentially related to the OP, so I think you can pretty much bring up whatever whenever.

  3. Disagree on the degree of wretchedness of Tyler Flowers but agree it is time to move on.

    I don’t expect D’Arnaud to be this effective offensively, but still well above average for a catcher and that is enough offense. Defense a little better than average and with reduced workloads on catchers maybe he hits 3 WAR.

    Being “ready” is not the only reason not to have seen Langeliers. Jackson and Contreras were already on the 4o man and already using options. No reason to use up that stuff UNLESS you can quantify that he would have been better, not merely just as good. I definitely think Langeliers is good enough to be a ML backup catcher for a mediocre to bad team right now. But Contreras has more offensive upside now and may be just as good defensively, so I think you see Jackson moved and see Contreras.

  4. Flowers isn’t a bad MLB player, he’s just bad at the money that he will no doubt want. He also seems to be a hellacious father and as the father of two that’s good enough for me, also.

    Since Duck is signed, I’d have the backup be the best defensive catcher we have. I expect D’Arnaud’s offense to come back to Earth next season as well. A 60 game season is a lot different from 162.

    I’d expect 400+ ABs of .275 15 HRs and 60 RBI as a baseline.

  5. I hadn’t heard that on Flowers and that’s a real shame. Do you have a link?

  6. @2

    Not just you, me too. What’s the rush? Now we’re in our off season there is little justification/need to have a new topic early every morning. And there is a price to be paid….

    The ‘old’ thread…much discussed this but often there were spirited discussions going on late the previous night/through the night in some cases/a few from early birds in the morning…they are killed off – nobody wants to disrupt the new thread if they don’t have to by JC’ing it to death.

    And…the author/s of the old thread have got to feel a tad short changed when in some cases they have put a lot of time and effort in their piece which has clearly reached only a small audience.

    Solution? What’s wrong with changing around noon? Perfect really, and in a few cases if it wants to run beyond that, leave it there. Regimentation per se is not necessary most, not all, of the time.

  7. yeah, i think we could use a little more time on the posts, it is a slower time now but the conversation isn’t getting a chance to grow, but the posts are great.

  8. Honestly, I’m not convinced that any of the guys is ready. I’m sure that the Langoliers need more time on the farm, and I’m pretty sure Contreras does too. It doesn’t look like Jackson is capable of outhitting a hamster, so I think we probably ought to sign a backup catcher.

    For example, I know it’s a little weird to lust after the Mets’ ineffective catching platoon, but both Wilson Ramos and Robinson Chirinos have been very productive in the recent past, and I’m guessing that they could both be had fairly cheaply, and I’m totally convinced they could outproduce Jackson.

    A big part of my hesitation on bringing up Contreras early is, Brian McCann notwithstanding, catchers are notoriously slow at developing as hitters, since their job is so difficult defensively. Just look at Flowers: it took him years to come into his own at the plate, and he’s a former top catching prospect with the Braves, too. Same for Saltalamacchia. I’d rather give Contreras more time to develop than throw him to the wolves — which is basically what we did to Bethancourt.

  9. In a true moment of insanity, I find myself in agreement with Chief that we should give each post an extra day. I have SO MANY thoughts on the outfield, but because I was out of pocket this weekend, I MISSED IT.

    And speaking of that, I’d love to jump back to the “Snitker doesn’t platoon” debate. I felt like Snit gave Duvall and Kakes a fair shake righty/lefty in LF this year. Am I wrong on that? And otherwise, I didn’t feel like there was any particular player this past year who deserves PAs against a certain handedness and didn’t get them. Was there a missed opportunity by Snit this year?

  10. @13

    Well, and it’s with that thought that I want to expound a little further on Snit. I would be really interested to see someone write a true, fair critique on Snit. To be honest, I can’t find any fault in what he’s done over the last 2 years other than not getting Soroka the ball twice during the 2019 NLDS, and even that was defensible.

    When I look back on this season, I see no failure by the major league coaching staff, Snit included. This team, on paper, was less talented than the Dodgers by a fair margin, and they took those SOBs down to the last several outs of the last game of the series. The failures of the Atlanta Braves, IMO, stem from the failure of developing starting pitching and relief prospects, and it is so hard to find a true culprit that I don’t even know where to begin. I’d blame JS, Hart, Coppy, AA, Brian Bridges, and our minor league instruction staff before I’d blame Snit, Seitzer, Wash, EYJ, or even Kranitz about our season ending one series too soon.

    Am I crazy?

  11. @13, with the free and full acknowledgment that I’m typing this comment without actually digging into the data, my impression is that Duvall and Kakes haven’t been “platooned” so much as they’ve been “hot-hand”-ed — in other words, when one of them was hot, he got penciled in as a starter, rather than each of them getting a regular 2-to-4 starts a week. Obviously that’s an empirical question and I’m going by gut, so I’m free to be proven wrong.

  12. I hear you guys and I understand your concern about posts moving too swiftly. However, I also want to echo Alex R’s point. There’s never a time that something is forbidden to discuss here and, in reality, this place has always acted as such and conversations that start in the comments very often have 0 to do with the piece mentioned. Say what ya want when you want.

    My 2nd point is this and this is the big one. Our blog and our regulars aren’t getting any younger. I’m 42 and I’m likely one of the youngest regulars. I want this place to be around to pass along to someone else in 20 years and it’s not going to grow by acting like it did these past 20 years. We have to grow. We have to produce quality, intelligent content. One a day isn’t much and we can adapt, but new readers aren’t going to want to come back to a blog that posts something 3-4 times/week. We HAVE to grow…and we are. Saturday and Sunday, our little blog got 7500 views over he course of 2 days. That’s unreal and people are paying attention. Hopefully soon, we will have new regulars (as long as blazon doesn’t run them off with his patented “been here before?” insults).

    Once daily, guys. It goes up in the morning so I can publish and cross post before I start teaching or start parenting. It’s not much to ask to adapt a little so this place can stick around and attract new people.


  13. The problem with platooning comes if the guy of the two who’s better is right-handed, as was the case this year with the Duvall vs. Markakis situation (or would’ve been had we ever actually bothered to call Pache up and turned Markakis/Duvall into much of a thing). At that point, you’re basically re-enacting what’s gonna wind up being the story of Ozzie Albies’ career as a hitter, except with two people involved. You intentionally played the worse of the two players 75 to 80 percent of the time. And that, in a nutshell is the problem with platooning if the better of the two players is right-handed…and I think one of the reasons why Duvall just got played against everybody this year.

  14. Very cool. Thank you for your very pertinent answer that does give another aspect to factor.

  15. @15, in the regular season Markakis only had 1 start against a LH starter (and OPS’d .882 in his 18 PA against all LHP), so he wasn’t used too much as a hot hand. Duvall started 47 games, 35 against RH starters, so he seems to have been more of an almost-full-time starter. I don’t remember exactly who was playing when, but Acuna being injured and Markakis’s two COVID-related absences may also have prevented Snit from platooning Duvall as much as he would’ve liked to.

  16. @16

    If you really think people would think less of the blog if there were only 3 or 4 new threads a week so be it…

    But a bigger issue I think is the early morning new thread cutting off what has been posted but mostly not read during the previous 12 hours. I fully understand parenting/school responsibilities etc but you have done all the work by then, everything ready to go at, say, 7.30am can’t you sit on it till, say, lunchtime from school and put it up then?

    Or not, as the case may be?! I just believe if you could it would produce fuller, more developed threads.

  17. Early morning threads and cross posts are here to stay as that is the time that I have to put up the posts and get them cross posted. I’m sure BravesPoetry.com is available. Run it however you want.

  18. @16 I’m in full agreement as a mostly reader and too infrequent commenter. Gotta get new people to this blog and the way it has been run, it seems to be working. Love this place and how it’s evolving. As some said before, usually the discussions are not tied to the post, which actually is one reason that this is such a special bar.

  19. I think Snit “hot-handed” when there wasn’t a platoon option, and he platooned when there was. I haven’t looked it up, but at a certain point, Ender didn’t pick up a bat against lefties. Kakes’ PAs against LHP were greatly reduced. The problem was for that for significant chunks of the season, Kakes, Ender, Camargo, and Riley were completely worthless, so there weren’t a whole lot of platoon options.

  20. If I were in his position, I would retire. The best case for him is probably getting on a <.500 team as a 4th or platoon OF/PH for relatively little money. Spring training is only about 4 months away, and I assume there will still be some covid restrictions, and living like that for a full season over seven months with a losing team where he doesn’t know anyone seems like it would be much less appealing than doing it for a couple of months with the 2020 Braves where he had played for the previous five years.

    I don’t know what motivates him, though, so it’s hard to say. He certainly seemed to be glad to opt back in when he did.

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