Alex Jackson will be Braves’ backup catcher to start season

Credit: Curtis Compton

Credit: Curtis Compton

The Braves announced Saturday that Alex Jackson will open the season as the backup catcher behind veteran Travis d’Arnaud. William Contreras, who was competing for the position, will be stationed at the alternate training site until the minor-league season begins in May.

ExplorePablo Sandoval, Ehire Adrianza, Nate Jones make Braves’ roster

It was a decision influenced by development. The Braves felt Contreras, their No. 6 prospect per Baseball America, would be best served playing more regularly (which he will at the alternate site games before the minor leagues resume). Jackson will spell d’Arnaud occasionally while providing needed power on the bench.

“Contreras, he needs to play,” manager Brian Snitker said. “We see him as an every-day guy. And he’s had a really good spring, and he’s getting better. He still has some defensive work to do and all. He’ll be sitting in on game planning and things like that. Just keep developing. We see him as a frontline guy.”

Contreras had a better spring than Jackson. He’s hit 6-for-17 (.353) with a homer and six RBIs in 13 games. Jackson, while further along behind the plate, has gone only 3-for-26 (.115) with a homer and five RBIs. Jackson has appeared in nine games over the past two seasons, while Contreras played in four games last season.

Jackson will be on the opening-day roster for the second consecutive campaign. He and Contreras began the 60-game slate in the majors last July after d’Arnaud and Tyler Flowers were sidelined because of COVID-19 protocols. This is a big opportunity for Jackson, a former top prospect who’s trying to establish himself as a major leaguer. Snitker has been complimentary of Jackson’s receiving ability all spring. The biggest question will be whether he can make consistent contact.

“He’s going to be a good catcher,” reliever Will Smith said of Jackson. “He’s smart. He wants to learn. He’s a fun guy to talk to. He’s a really good golfer, I found that out the hard way. He’s a good kid. He’s going to be good for a long time.”

Contreras, meanwhile, remains one of the best-graded prospects in the organization. He and Shea Langeliers, a first-round pick in 2019, give the Braves two high-end catching prospects at a time most of MLB would be thrilled to have one. Contreras is a big part of the franchise’s future, and he could still find his way back to the majors later this season.

“We don’t see him as a backup catcher,” Snitker said. “We see him as an every-day guy, and we want him to continue to keep developing. He’s had 190 at-bats in Double-A. He hasn’t had a full season there yet. But he’s a young, talented guy we look at as an every-day catcher, not a backup. With his skill set and where he’s come the last couple years, I love the guy. I love the player. He’s grown up and he has skills. It’ll be fun to watch when he’s here and playing.”

Notes from Saturday:

- The roster could still change before opening day, but the Braves plan to use a four-man bench to open the season. That group will include Pablo Sandoval, Ehire Adrianza, outfielder Ender Inciarte and Jackson. Infielder Johan Camargo will be optioned and start the season at the alternate site. The shorter bench allows the Braves to temporarily carry an expanded bullpen.

“At some point in time, we could add a fifth (bench player), but right now, that’s how we’ve chosen to go,” Snitker said.

- The Braves won’t use a fifth starter the first time through their rotation, a decision made possible by an early off day. They plan to orchestrate a bullpen game during the second series of the season against the Nationals.

Their 10-man bullpen, barring a late addition, is set. It features five righties and five lefties: Will Smith (L), Chris Martin, A.J. Minter (L), Tyler Matzek (L), Josh Tomlin, Huascar Ynoa, Grant Dayton (L), Luke Jackson, Sean Newcomb (L) and Jones.

- In his final tune-up, Max Fried allowed two hits over three scoreless innings, striking out five and walking two in the Braves’ 8-5 win over the Orioles. Fried will make his first career opening-day start Thursday in Philadelphia.

“I physically felt good,” Fried said. “The ball was coming out well. I was able to throw all my pitches. Not necessarily the sharpest with command, but it was a good little test of when you don’t have your best stuff, being able to go out and compete through it.”

- Fried’s second inning could’ve spiraled, but Cristian Pache’s defense shined again. Pache fielded a ball in center and delivered a perfect strike home to nail a baserunner and end the inning. It was one of several eye-popping throws Pache has made from the outfield this spring. While the team hasn’t made it official, Pache will be the opening-day starting center fielder.

“Wow, that was pretty impressive,” Fried said. “The throw was right on the money to get the guy at the plate. One of the better plays in the gap that I’ve seen in person in a long time. I haven’t really been able to see it in person like that. I’ve heard a lot of stories about how good he is out there, but I’m a believer.”

- Charlie Morton will make his third and final exhibition start Sunday against the Rays. He’s allowed one unearned run in 7-1/3 innings this spring. The Braves have three exhibition contests remaining.