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.