This time last season, William Contreras appeared to be the catcher of the future for the Atlanta Braves. He had a breakout 2018 that boosted him up prospect lists. He destroyed opposing pitchers in Rome and earned a late-season promotion to the Florida Fire Frogs. Unfortunately, it seems he hit a wall in 2019. He struggled in Florida, but the Braves still gave him the benefit of the doubt and promoted him to Mississippi. He experienced a bit of a dropoff there as well. Compound that with the Braves’ selection of Shea Langeliers, and Contreras has certainly fallen out of favor behind the plate as far as prospect lists are concerned.
A year ago, however, he was viewed as a top 10 prospect in the system, and some may argue he still is. He certainly still has that type of upside, and it would be foolish to rule him out being a major league regular in the future. And here’s why:
Contreras may have some work to do behind the plate to become a complete defensive backstop, but he is certainly no slouch in that regard. In today’s MLB, any offense you can get on top of the defense is simply icing on the cake. Contreras comes from good bloodlines, being the little brother of Cubs’ catcher Willson Contreras. Comparing prospects is like comparing apples and oranges, but if you look at Willson’s minor league numbers, he actually hit a slump around the exact same level. Let’s take a look:
Little Contreras is about two years ahead of where big brother was in his minor league career heading into AA. Willson, like William, had a big year in A ball, and then followed that up by struggling in A+ ball. However, he did follow that up with a breakout age 23 campaign in AA ball the following season. Hopefully, we can see a similar trend with William, especially since he already got a decent sample size of upper-level ball to end 2019.
William has been facing older competition for the majority of his minor league career, and it should not be forgotten how much the Braves value defense behind the plate, and how much of an emphasis they are likely putting on that down on the farm. It is easy to imagine how this emphasis can take away some production with the bat during development. Even the greatest hitting catchers have struggled at that level during that time of development, such as J.T. Realmuto. The Braves should start him again in AA this season and hope for a big breakout season.
Guys develop differently, but William is way ahead of where his brother was at this point in their careers, and now Willson is among the league’s best. William may be as lucky, and maybe not. Prospects are unpredictable. But keep that in mind before you write him off due to a down year and a high draft pick invested at the catcher position. Contreras could still be a huge piece for this Braves team as the new decade approaches and will be one of the most vital youngsters to watch down on the farm in 2020. The Braves have two guys who can be major league regulars at the plate down the road with a plus bat, the most scarce commodity in baseball. But 2020 will be the make or break year for Contreras with Shea Langeliers getting his first full season as a pro under his belt.