What do the Braves have in William Contreras?

Bill Shanks

William Contreras should be in Gwinnett. If not for the sickness of the two main catchers for the Atlanta Braves, that’s exactly where he would be.

But Travis d’Arnaud and Tyler Flowers are sick. Who knows when they will be back? Hopefully, it’ll be soon, but in the meantime the Braves are able to see a sneak peek at one of their top prospects.

One day after he got a big RBI-double in the 10 inning to extend Atlanta’s lead, Contreras is expected to start Sunday night as the Braves finish their season-opening series in New York.

Contreras is 22 years old. He turns 23 on Christmas Eve. He’s the younger brother of Cubs catcher Willson Contreras, who on Friday was really happy his little brother had made the Major Leagues. 

And on Saturday, Willson was thrilled William helped the Braves win.

Willson Contreras has said he believes his brother will be better than him. The last three seasons for the Cubs, Willson has hit .264 with a .349 on base percentage and has averaged 18 home runs and 64 RBI.

The younger Contreras was likely headed back to Double-A Mississippi before the pandemic hit. He had ended the 2019 season there last September. Contreras had played in 60 games in the Southern League. He hit .246 with a .306 OBP, three home runs, 17 RBI and nine doubles in 191 at bats.

That followed his stint in the Florida State League with the Florida Fire Frogs. Contreras played 50 games there, with a .263 batting average, a .324 OBP, three home runs and 22 RBI.

Contreras has always been known as a great defensive prospect. The Braves have seen his strong arm in the summer camp, and they also have seen a much-improved player at the plate, as well.

Most believe Shea Langeliers is the future catcher for the Atlanta Braves. He was the first-round pick in 2019 by the current front office, and there is no doubt Langeliers also made a great impression on the MLB coaches in spring training.

But what happens if Contreras is forced to play in the absence of d’Arnaud and Flowers and performs well? Could Contreras instead become the player who the Braves believe is their future catcher?

d’Arnaud is signed for this season and again for next season at $8 million. Flowers is a free agent after this season. And let’s not forget about Alex Jackson, who is obviously thought of highly by the front office.

When the Tigers were talking trade with GM Alex Anthopoulos last July, they wanted Jackson in the deal for reliever Shane Greene. Instead, Anthopoulos wanted left-handed pitching prospect Joey Wentz in the trade. Wentz has since undergone Tommy John surgery and is out for the season.

The Braves believe Jackson will hit, but so far, he just hasn’t. Jackson was 0-2 on Saturday with two strikeouts. He did the same thing Friday in the season opener. Counting what Jackson did last season in four games, Jackson is now 0-17 in the big leagues.

Of course, whenever d’Arnaud and Flowers are healthy, they’ll be back. But until then, Jackson better start hitting, or Contreras could get more playing time.

It’s logical to wonder if Langerliers is still considered the catcher of the future for the Braves, would the team entertain putting Contreras in a large trade.

Anthopoulos has said for over a year that at some point, he will likely need to make a huge, three or four-for-one trade. If the Braves were able to include Contreras or Langeliers in a deal, it could be a huge trade.

Remember, over a decade ago, the Braves had Brian McCann and Jarrod Saltalamacchia. When they decided McCann was their guy, they included Saltalamacchia in the trade with Texas for Mark Teixeira.

It's also reminiscent of when the San Diego Padres had Benito Santiago and Sandy Alomar, Jr. The Padres used Alomar in the trade with Cleveland that sent Joe Carter to San Diego.

So, catching prospects can have tremendous value.

But for now, the Braves will hope Contreras can help them win. He’ll get his chance Sunday night when he catches Sean Newcomb in the third game of the season.

Listen to The Bill Shanks Show weekdays at 3:00 p.m. ET on Middle Georgia’s ESPN. You can listen online at TheSuperStations.com. Follow Bill on Twitter at @billshanks and you can email him at thebillshanksshow@yahoo.com.

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