As the Atlanta Braves feasibly sign their solution for catcher in 2019, does it also indicate how they feel about the future at the position?
The signing of Brian McCann for the Atlanta Braves would seem to close the catcher position for the big league level for 2019, but could his one-year deal indicate something about how the Braves feel about their future at the position?
Many know that I do a multitude of calls and emails when I begin putting together my top 100 (or 125 this year) Atlanta Braves prospect list each year. I talk with scouts I’ve had a chance to get to know in the business, prospect writers that I trust, and I also then devour anything written on Braves prospects from evaluators that I can find along with watching hours of video.
One of the common refrains I heard this year that really pushed the rankings I put out in October was just how high the Atlanta Braves are on young catcher William Contreras. I’ve heard from multiple people that they think the Braves will push him to AA to open 2019 and believe he will see significant MLB time in 2020.
If that is the true timeline, with Contreras easing into the position in 2020 to take over the full-time role in 2021, then the way contracts are currently structured in Atlanta would fit perfectly. You have McCann, the veteran leader, to help shore up 2019 as Contreras works his way across the upper levels of the minors, and Flowers is signed for 2019 with an option for 2020, something that would likely allow the team to gauge where Contreras is at the end of the 2019 season.
Who is Contreras?
William Contreras is the younger brother of current Chicago Cubs catcher Willson Contreras. The Atlanta Braves signed the Venezuelan catcher in February of 2015. From the first time he stepped on the field, Contreras has received rave reviews for his mature approach behind the plate and at the plate.
His first season in the DSL, he hit .314/.370/.413 with a 15/21 BB/K over 172 at-bats. He fell into a very limited time share in the GCL the next season, but once freed of that with Danville, he established himself as an Appalachian League All-Star in 2017 with Danville, where he hit .290/.379/.432 with a 24/30 BB/K ratio.
Contreras swung for more power this season in his swing, and did get a bit loose in his advanced contact skills, though he still struck out less than 20% of the time he was at the plate. He combined at both A-ball levels to hit .285/.347/.436 with 24 doubles and 11 home runs in 2018.
Defensively, Contreras is advanced behind the plate in many aspects, with the speed of the game really never overwhelming him, more just fine-tuning his footwork in his lateral movement and in the running game behind the plate. Blessed with a definite plus arm, his footwork has hurt his accuracy, which has led to a high stolen base success rate thus far, but he certainly has the arm to control the running game.
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The Atlanta Braves could certainly still pursue another catcher to fill the gap until Contreras is ready and let him ease into the role in the big leagues in 2021-2022, but if they’re as aggressive as people say they will be, today’s signing makes perfect sense.