Like most of Braves Country, I’ve been a critic of Tyler Flowers during his tenure in Atlanta. He’s had some frustrating moments, but overall, he’s a more than capable backup catcher, possessing the ability to get on base and elite pitch-framing skills. Perhaps money played into it. It was reported last week that the Braves have less than $5 million to spend this offseason because of restrictions placed on Alex Anthopoulos by ownership. But, judging by how Flowers is still a free-agent, you’d think the Braves could have afforded him if they really desired to, which shows you a lot about their faith in Alex Jackson and 23-year-old William Contreras.
The last time anybody saw the brother of All-Star catcher Willson Contreras play minor league baseball, he was struggling in AA Mississippi, hitting just .246 with a .647 OPS in 60 games. William didn’t stroke it in 50 games with the Florida Fire Frogs that year either, recording a slightly better .692 OPS. It was a disappointing season and a step back for a player who had just shot up prospect lists everywhere, thanks to a marvelous 2018 campaign. However, a change in his offensive approach entering last season seemed to have done wonders, even if it was a minuscule sample size.
Contreras showcased loads of power to all fields during spring training and then received his first cup of coffee in the majors when both Travis d’Arnaud and Tyler Flowers were out with symptoms of the coronavirus. He went 4-10 with his first major-league RBI in those four games, performing much better offensively than Alex Jackson, who is also competing to be the backup catcher in Atlanta.
The now 25-year-old Jackson is the more experienced of the two. He was the sixth overall pick in 2014 by the Mariners before he was traded to the Braves. And even though Contreras has had much better success in their respective brief stints in the majors, it was Jackson who had the much more impressive 2019 minor-league campaign, smashing 28 homers and 85 RBIs with an .846 OPS in 85 games with the Gwinnett Stripers (AAA). His power is undeniable, but the K% is worrisome. He struck out 118 times in those 85 games, which will have to change if he ever wants to find consistent success at the next level.
However, whether Jackson is the Braves Option A to begin the season or not, choosing not to add another major-league catching option is a sign of the faith the organization has in both of these young backstops. Even if d’Arnaud didn’t have any injury issues last season, he has suffered from a lengthy list of injuries throughout his career, never playing more than 112 games in a season. And only three times over his eight-year career has he even caught more than 100 games. It’s very possible — almost certain — that both Contreras and Jackson will be in Atlanta simultaneously in 2021, which could end up being thrilling, like last season, or a nightmare.
Contreras is once again in the starting lineup this afternoon as the Braves prepare to take on the Orioles.
Here is today’s #BravesST lineup vs. the Orioles! pic.twitter.com/WLbFdxf6Qp
— Atlanta Braves (@Braves) March 3, 2021
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