William Contreras recalled to Atlanta as future looks bright behind the plate

-Clint Manry

During a 28-game span (May 8 – June 2) this season, 23-year-old catcher William Contreras shined for the Braves and showed everyone why, for several years now, he’s consistently been one of the top prospects in the organization. In that stretch, Contreras hit .264 for Atlanta, adding six home runs, a pair of doubles and even a triple while tallying 20 RBI – good for a solid 123 wRC+. For roughly a month, it looked as if the rookie catcher was on his way to putting together one of the better rookie performances for the Braves. And despite the team’s overall struggles, watching the young catcher perform was a must-see.

However, as the month of June progressed, Contreras’ performance declined. Following nearly 30 games of the above-average play mentioned above, his next 16 games featured a 5 for 51 stretch (.098 AVG) and eventually a demotion. Just like that, Contreras was back in the minors, where his 2021 campaign begun. But instead of giving up, it appears Contreras used his setback this summer to work even harder.

From Day 1 with Triple-A Gwinnett, Contreras has just kept hitting. That month-long stint with the Stripers may’ve felt like forever for him, but it’s pretty impressive how quickly he was able to turn things around. After being lucky to pick up a hit in an entire week in the majors, Contreras belted seven long balls in a 10-game span with Gwinnett in mid-July. In terms of turn-arounds, what Contreras has done during his time in the minors is pretty damn amazing…

William Contreras’ monthly splits (2021)

June (MLB) – 70 PA, .200 AVG, 27.1 K%, 4 XBH, 52 wRC+

July (AAA) – 76 PA, .343 AVG, 17.1 K%, 13 XBH, 197 wRC+

August (AAA) – 49 PA, .267 AVG, 24.5 K%, 2 XBH, 77 wRC+

As you can see, so far this month Contreras has cooled a bit with the Stripers as he’s hitless in his last eight AB, including a .167 AVG over his last nine games in Triple-A. But his body of work during the month or so spent in the minors appears to have definitely paid off. Regardless, we’ll get to see real soon as the Braves announced on Saturday that not only is Contreras recalled to the majors, but he’ll also catch Touki Toussaint on Sunday for the Braves series finale versus the Orioles.

A future at catcher

Contreras being recalled comes just a day after the Braves extended starting catcher Travis d’Arnaud to another two-year, $16-million contract, which includes an $8-millon club-option for the 2024 season. The 32-year-old veteran has missed a good bit of time this year, but given his contributions in 2020 and how well he has meshed with this Braves pitching staff, keeping d’Arnaud for 2-3 more seasons seems like a no-brainer. Through Saturday, the former Met has posted a .288 AVG and slugged 13 home runs (122 wRC+) in 73 career games with Atlanta – good for 1.9 fWAR. d’Arnaud hasn’t really had a chance to get going in 2021, for that thumb injury spoiled his ability to put up big numbers; but when healthy, this is a solid big league catcher, and one that should provide the Braves lineup with an above-average bat for the foreseeable future, not to mention help guide the organization’s two prospect catchers.

Which brings us to the future. Right now the Braves organizational depth chart looks incredible. I’ve already mentioned the gains Contreras has accomplished, but then there’s also Atlanta’s former top pick from 2019, Shea Langeliers (ranked fourth on my 2021 Braves Midseason Prospect List).

Langeliers, still just 23-years-old, is on track to potentially start the 2022 season in Triple-A after he has literally demolished the Double-A level with Mississippi this year. Check out where the kid ranks within the Double-A South League in numerous key stats in 2021…

  • 74 hits (8th)
  • 19 HR (t-3rd)
  • 48 runs (t-5th)
  • 42 RBI (t-10th)
  • .268 AVG (7th)
  • 136 wRC+ (4th)
  • 24% line-drive rate (8th)
  • 47.4% fly-ball rate (5th)

Unfortunately it’s nearly impossible to find batted-ball metrics on minor leaguers, but it’s evident by just watching the kid that he’s hitting the ball much harder now into his second pro season. We thought we were just getting a defense-first catcher in Langeliers, but his hit tool is definitely more advanced than the 30-grade he received on draft day.

Oh, and just to confirm that none of his defensive skills have lacked during this offensive outburst, Langeliers has thrown out 43% of would-be base stealers so far this year. That’s well above the league average in the big leagues.

So all-in-all it’s an exciting time for the Braves regarding its trio of catchers. The seasoned presence that d’Arnaud will offer over these next couple of seasons behind the plate will no doubt aid in the development of Contreras, and in turn, eventually Langeliers as well. And even better, with the universal-DH an inevitability at this point, a need for an extra bat in the lineup will create even more options for the team, potentially opening up enough room for all three at some point. Either way, the Braves should be set at catcher… and that’s one less area GM Alex Anthopoulos needs to worry with heading into next winter.

47 thoughts on “William Contreras recalled to Atlanta as future looks bright behind the plate”

  1. Alan was unavailable to recap last night’s game so this is the recap:

    Braves won their 8th straight, are up 5 games in the division, and have done exactly what they needed to do to bad teams!

    And…Will Smith is still Hancock.

  2. We didn’t get to beat up on a bunch of losers last night, on the contrary. They fought us hard on and into the ninth until they were vanquished by a magnificent 11 pitch at bat by Ozzie whose eventual double, on a full count, set everything else up.

    Which was just as well seeing he had started the game off a couple of hours or so prior with possibly the most abject At Bat of the season where he looked like he didn’t really want to be there and we might have been excused for echoing that sentiment. There he was – golfing, scuttling, fly fishing, sweeping the air around him. Talk about setting the tone. My contribution to this provocation was a rare, angry shout at the screen, so there.

    Life, they say, is enhanced for all of us by its contrasts. The bad exaggerate the beauty of the good. Ozzie has been sent along into our lives so that we may never forget this.

    Postscript. Sergio Leone would have loved Ozzie’s swing. The Good, The Bad, The Ugly. Spaghetti time.

  3. Thank you for the wonderfully informative article.

    Great posts too. Thanks to all.

    Welcome back, blazon.

  4. Great to have you back Blazon. The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly is also a great way to describe the Braves, Phillies, and Mets since the trade deadline.

  5. @3, more often than any other player I’ve seen, left-handed Ozzie will follow down a sinking inside off-speed pitch and hit it just off the ground. Often when he starts, it looks like he’s committed to swing at a pitch that he really shouldn’t, but then he manages to make contact and either pull it foul or hit it to the first baseman or stroke it into right field.

    After last night’s at-bat in the 9th, Chip said he golfed it into right, but to me that looked much more like a cricket stance & swing. As far as I can tell, they don’t play cricket in Curacao, though.

  6. @6 Whoa, my island!

    But that’s not a cricket field. We don’t play cricket here, even though we’re in the Caribbean. It’s just a small baseball field with a very odd location.

    Edit: Here’s another angle, from Google Maps

    Renaissance Hotel to the right, the cruise terminal at the bottom and the old hospital to the left.

  7. Chip: “There goes the no hitter for Means”

    It’s always a fairly inane comment, but at least Means has shown he is capable of tossing a no no

  8. Chip with the predictable “get him through 5th inning “to qualify for the win comment.

  9. I want to say Touki did well. Then an inner voice opines, “It’s the O’s.”

    “But it’s still a major league lineup,” I counter.

    And the dark voice of reason asks, “Really?”

    @14: Rob is perceptive. LOL.

  10. Touki threw 89 pitches. 59 for strikes. That’s a good day for him. Especially since a bunch of the hits off him were cheapies.

  11. JonathanF, is there enough film evidence and is technology so advanced as to compare fast ball velocity within eras? Sixty feet six inches is constant. Is film speed an issue? Otherwise I can’t see why Nolan Ryan, James Rodney Richard and Bob Feller cannot be compared to Jason DeGrom. What am I missing?

    Mound height?

  12. If you play Will-Smithian Roulette enough, you’ll find the chamber with the bullet and end up dead.

  13. … 28 saves. That gives Smith sole possession of 14th on the Braves single-season record. Ahead of Rafael Soriano, Mike Stanton, Cecil Upshaw (and spectres of the bad years) Jason Grilli and Jim Johnson.

  14. @23 I don’t think he is good enough to be a “closer”. The best reliever on the team is Matzek. However, I think they should decide who pitchers what inning by what batters they will be facing. No defined roles. It’s a silly concept anyway.

  15. @15 coop, if you compare Touki today to Smyly yesterday against the same team…. it’s got to make you feel a bit more positive, right?

  16. @26 He is getting “saves” because he has been the only closer on the team all season. Also, don’t forget the 6 losses and the blown saves. His FIP is 4.10 while Matzek is 2.86. Finally, he gives up too many home runs. It doesn’t matter because Snit won’t change and just said he won’t change.

    But, we are winning so that’s the main thing.

  17. @27 There are arguments for/against using your best pitcher exclusively in the 9th inning with a 1-3 run lead.

    Factors to take into consideration:

    1) Some pitchers handle the “9th-inning pressure” better than others. Smith has shown he can give up a HR and still finish the inning. More often than I like. Only 3/8 games he allowed a HR the Braves lost.

    2) You’re going to get more innings out of the guys you’re NOT saving for save-opportunities. Many leads are blown before the 9th.

    3) If a top reliever can pitch multiple innings, better to use em for multiple innings. (i.e. Rodriguez, Matzek)

    4) Baseball players are very superstitious and like having defined roles. (90% of the game is half-mental or something like that) In a vacuum it makes more sense to play the matchups as you suggested. But if you’re going to get better results from managing a certain way, you manage that certain way.

    Anyhoo, I’m not going to pretend I’m smarter than Brian Snitker. Team is 16-3 this month. Very happy with the status quo.

    Edit: @30 We agree on the important things. I’m just not as sure as you are that 9th inning Matzek will pitch the same way 7th/8th-inning Matzek does.

  18. @17: There’s no question that the methods of measuring fastball speeds have changed over time in a way to make current hurlers look much faster. The old measures at best measured the average speed of a ball to the plate and the current measures use the speed right after it comes out of the hand. For fastballs, the difference is at least 4-5 mph. The old radar gun measurements were somewhere in between, so they need to be goosed by 2-3 mph to be comparable. (There were also two different radar guns in use in that period and there was a couple of mph difference between them, creating the distinction between the “fast gun” and “slow gun.”)

    I think most experts think that Bob Feller threw as hard at his max effort as, say, Aroldis Chapman, though there may be some changes in training methods that might make Chapman somewhat faster. I don’t know that anybody has a definitive opinion about Walter Johnson.

    I used to have some links on this, but I can’t find them now. I’ll take a look a little later and see if I can track down something reliable.

    PS: I’m not sure if the Braves are ever playing on Thursday again… so keep those questions coming!

    Found it! https://www.baseballamerica.com/stories/the-measure-of-a-fastball-has-changed-over-the-years/

  19. Wherever they are pitching some of these guys are doing a great job. I will concede that sometimes a game is actually “saved” before the 9th…so it’s nice to have these guys available.

  20. From Feller’s Wikipedia page: “There is footage of a Feller fastball being clocked by Army ordnance equipment (used to measure artillery shell velocity) and registering at 98.6 mph (158.7 km/h).[73] However, this took place in the later years of his career and the speed of the ball was measured as it crossed the plate (whereas later methods measure the speed as it leaves the pitcher’s hand). With primitive equipment, Feller was at one point measured at 105 mph (169 km/h).[8] Feller once mentioned that he was clocked at 104 mph (167 km/h) at Lincoln Park in Chicago.[74] He also threw the second fastest pitch ever officially recorded, at 107.6 mph (173.2 km/h), in a game in 1946 at Griffith Stadium.[1][3]:27”

  21. On Aug 1st, we were 4GB and now we’re at least 5 games up. The biggest lead in the division has been 5 games. We may surpass that today. Things change very quickly. We are also approaching our Pythagorean win prediction – currently 3 games off now. A few more close wins and we’ll get there. Another interesting note: like the last three years we are even or have a chance to be even against most teams in the league. Only one team stands out – 0-6 against Toronto. 7-9 against the Phillies so that means we have a winning record since the opening sweep. Instead of the Marlins, we are lambasting the gNats. I really don’t think there’s anything in the schedule that stands in our way at this point.

  22. I read something somewhere sometime (I love specificity) where Feller said he was the best pitcher and threw the fastest pitch ever.

    The Cleveland Indians of the Boudreaux-Al Rosen- Bob Lemon- Mike Garcia-Early Winn timeframe were my AL team but Feller, even at the tail end of his career, was my favorite.

    The Wahoos didn’t get much play on the Game of the Week, and radio reception in the south Georgia piney woods was iffy; so my fandom was mostly poring over box scores.

    Still, outside my Bums, Feller was the favorite player of my youth.

    I wanted to include the Big Train in the comparison but doubted enough footage existed.

    For you youngsters, J.R. Richard was as good as it got.

  23. Just to tell you how tough using film is, normal film speed is 24 frames per second. A little math tells you that a 100 mph fastball would use about 9 frames while a 90 mph fastball would use about 10. So unless you can really align the film perfectly, normal film would have a hard time getting speeds to the nearest 5 mph. (And that’s for average speed.) Another huge question is exactly how far a pitch went to derive average speed, since pitcher’s release point are considerably less than 60’6″, probably closer to 55 for most of them.

    And yeah, JR was scary fast.

  24. So the Unit’s release velocity would not have to be as great as say Stroman’s to be “faster?”

  25. There’s a real science of reaction time as opposed to speed. One of the reasons sidearmers are hard to hit is that the ability to react to speed is much attenuated from where the pitch is released. And where the pitch is released from makes a difference too.

    When people talk about Jenny Finch and the inability of MLB hitters to hit her, I am always amazed that no one talks about the much shorter reaction time induced by the much shorter distance… but that’s another story for another day.

  26. Missed Clint’s update to his top 30. Thanks Clint.

    It’s going to be a long time before we would miss any of the players we traded at this past deadline. I really feel sorry for Ball as, to Clint’s point, it has not been a good transition to the Cubs’ organization: .186/.352/.351 in 126 PAs.

    Bryse Wilson has basically been Drew Smyly since going to Pittsburgh: some 5 IP, 2 ER; 5 IP, 3 ER outings. Good for him. Hope he makes it. Still a great trade.

    Does anyone think we can beat MIL/SF/SD/LA in a playoff series? I just want to ask this question every now and again. Man, we are destroying bad competition, which is what good teams do. Are we great?

  27. Anyone can beat anyone in a short series. That’s why expanded playoffs tarnished the Braves’ great 90’s run.

    This year:

    2-1 vs Dodgers
    3-3 vs Brewers
    1-1 vs Padres
    0-0 vs Giants (oooh! Undefeated!)

    So fret not, young Copenhaver.

  28. 2) You’re going to get more innings out of the guys you’re NOT saving for save-opportunities. Many leads are blown before the 9th.

    This is a key point, and it balances out the fan frustration over the closer role. Like when you have a stud closer, and it’s like the 2013 NLDS where he’s sitting with his arms folded while the game is being decided in the 8th. Fans will get frustrated that the stud closer is underutilized. But in this situation it works out really well. Will Smith will come in to get the last three outs of a game, and there has to be a lead in order for him to be used. That will lead to far less opportunities to use the mediocre Smith than that there is a close game in the sixth or seventh inning when you bring in better relievers. So in the end, what should happen happens.

  29. @41 I still don’t like the Wilson for Rodríguez trade for the simple reason that Wilson is a better pitcher. It was unnecessary. But I loved all of the other trades.

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