This offseason has moved painfully slow. Most of the notable names remain on the market, but that will all change in the coming weeks. With pitchers and catchers set to report in a little over a month, it shouldn’t be too long before these free-agents find a new home. The Braves are far from done making moves this offseason, with significant needs still among their outfield, bullpen, and bench.
One of those spots they have to figure out before Opening Day is the backup catcher’s role. Travis d’Arnaud showed last year there is no need for a platoon anymore. He’s going to play the majority of the games. Still, no catcher should be asked to catch many more than 100 games in the Atlanta heat, and the Braves will likely want to keep him as fresh as possible for later in the year, making it important to have a high-quality second option.
Just like the rest of the market, there are still plenty of solid catchers available, including the Braves second option from last season, Tyler Flowers. I certainly wouldn’t mind bringing him back on another one-year deal, but Alex Anthopoulos could also look to upgrade at the position. However, the deeper the Braves get into the offseason without signing another catcher, the more I begin to believe they might give top catching prospect William Contreras a chance to win the job permanently in spring training.
The Braves posted this video of him dropping some tanks during the offseason.
Here’s William Contreras hitting 𝙩𝙖𝙣𝙠𝙨
— FOX Sports: Braves (@FOXSportsBraves) January 13, 2021
Based on his minor league career, it sounds a bit preposterous. I know he impressed us all when he was called up at the beginning of last season out of necessity, going 4-10 with a double in the four games he played, but he still has yet to play a game at the AAA level. The last time we saw him in 2019, he was struggling in Mississippi, slashing just .246/.306/.340. Expecting him to be a permanent member of the Braves from Opening Day without any experience in Gwinnett is generally far-fetched. Still, perhaps he proved himself that much at the team’s alternate training site last season, something we obviously had no access to.
Following Contreras’ struggles to end the 2019 season, many people were down on him as a prospect heading into 2020. However, rumors of adjustments at the plate had others confident that Contreras was still the best catcher in Atlanta’s farm system. Those adjustments were heard loud and clear in spring training, and he didn’t seem to have any problem with major-league pitching when called upon during the regular season. Obviously, the sample size was minuscule, but if this success continued throughout all the live scrimmages and games at the alternate training site, it shouldn’t surprise anyone if the Braves trust him as Travis d’Arnaud’s backup going into spring training.
From there, it will be about Contreras earning the job. It may not be in the Braves’ best interest to spend the $3-5 million it will take to bring back Tyler Flowers on a one-year contract, especially if that money could go to re-signing Marcell Ozuna or bringing in an All-Star like George Springer. However, competition for Contreras will be necessary. The job won’t just be handed to him, but it very well might be his to lose going into spring training, which would be an auspicious sign of what the Braves feel about Contreras’ future.