Stop me if you’ve heard this one.
The Atlanta Braves have a deep farm system.
I recently realized just how deep it was when I did the Top 20 midseason rankings for the site. (If you missed it, you can see prospects ranked 1 through 10 here, and 11 through 20 here). It’s a massive undertaking for one person (how John does it every year, I don’t know). In compiling a team’s best 20 prospects, you have to search out at least 30 to 35 to make sure you don’t miss someone that can sneak into the cut.
That’s where William Contreras comes into the picture. I don’t know a lot about him, but what I do know is exciting stuff. That being said, let’s take a look at what we do know.
Contreras was signed in February of 2015 out of Venezuela at the young age of 17. Baseball is in his bloodlines, being the younger brother of Chicago Cubs exciting young catcher Willson Contreras. He was much more raw than his brother, but exhibited the same athleticism behind the plate according to many of the reports when he signed.
He progressed up the minor league ladder, having an outstanding debut in the Dominican Summer League, followed up by a year in the Gulf Coast League that saw the young righty struggle to start. He improved each month, however, capping off his season with a strong August, posting a .898 OPS.
With the emergence of Brett Cumberland, the addition of Alex Jackson and the rebound of Lucas Herbert, the Braves find themselves with a sudden amount of nice depth at catcher in the lower levels of the system. Thus, there was no reason to rush Contreras, allowing him to mature another season in Danville.
Mature he has.
Despite fellow catching prospect Drew Lugbauer absolutely demolishing Appalachian League pitching for a league-leading ten home runs since being drafted out of Michigan in June, Contreras has seen more reps behind the plate. He has also made great -- and exciting — strides at the plate.
Contreras hit his first triple of the season in Monday night’s game against Bristol. He has now hit in 23 of his 26 games this season including 18 of his last 19 amid a four-game hitting streak. Contreras seems to be able to use all fields. Three of his doubles have gone to the right-center gap, while three have found the left-center gap.
Saturday night’s double, his seventh of the season? Another gapper.
William Contreras just lined a double into the gap. Kid can't be far from a promotion. Similar to Drew Lugbauer— Matt Powers (@MattPowers31) July 29, 2017
Contreras has improved offensively across the board. He is slashing .320/.409/.506 through 26 games, compiling an outstanding .914 OPS behind a 140 wRC+. He was never an overwhelming concern in the strikeout department, but has shown much-improved patience at the plate. He’s walked the same amount of times (15) as he has struck out and to put it into deeper perspective two of those strike outs came on Saturday night.
#Braves C William Contreras, younger brother of Willson, is 2-for-2 to extend his hit streak to 11 games. Bat control, strength impressive— Kyle Glaser (@KyleAGlaser) July 20, 2017
It’s much easier to judge hitting looking at the few videos, some stats and reports out there. When paired with listening to Nick Pierce calling the games, you have a general feel that Contreras is ready for the next leg of his journey.
But how about defensively?
Our good friend John Calvagno over at Notes from the Sally saw him recently. Though he hasn’t written up a full scouting report on Contreras, he shared some thoughts with me on his defense.
Calvagno feels that he is very athletic behind the plate and moves well, but also noted that he had some trouble blocking balls in the dirt. Passed balls were certainly a problem in his debut, but he seems to have gotten that a bit more under control this season, allowing only two. He didn’t officially clock it, but Calvagno was impressed with his pop time as well, stating he’s a very quick catcher. He threw out another runner last night, but is still throwing out just 18 percent of his base runners this year. That’s a decent number, but well below the impressive 33 percent of base runners he threw out last season. It’s safe to say that Calvagno feels that his overall technique is a work in progress, but likes a lot about his skill set.
I also reached out to Davin Wilson, the Danville Braves beat writer for The Danville Register & Bee. He seemed to agree with much of what Calvagno had to say.
I think one of the biggest problems he has is his range and inability to keep a pitch in front of him. Especially on curves and off-speed— Davin Wilson (@davinbnt) July 30, 2017
While he seems to be able to gun runners down, numbers don’t always tell the whole picture.
I do. He needs to work on his accuracy while throwing down to second on steals, but other than that, the kid has a cannon.— Davin Wilson (@davinbnt) July 30, 2017
Seems like Contreras is not exactly an elite prospect at 19, nor is he the top catching prospect in the system. He is, however, turning some heads and playing some real solid — and improved — baseball. With Lugbauer now in Rome, the everyday catcher spot looks like it’s Contreras’ in Danville. Pay close attention down this final leg of the season to see how he handles the load.
So, let’s discuss. The beauty of our Braves community is their passion for the farm system. Sometimes, they are more knowledgable than us writers. What are your thoughts on young Contreras?