Keep a positive mentality. Always be early. Always be disciplined.
When William Contreras seeks advice from his older brother, those are the words that resonate. Willson, of course, is an All-Star catcher for the Cubs. William is the Braves’ top catching prospect who’s building momentum toward a similar trajectory.
William is in his second big-league camp. He’s studying Tyler Flowers and Brian McCann – two veterans lauded for their instructional skills – and soaking up knowledge from catching coach Sal Fasano. As Contreras gets more exposure, the thought grows that the 21-year old could be a major leaguer as soon as 2020.
“I definitely feel like I’m improving,” Contreras said through an interpreter. “You get the sense that you’re getting closer and I’m very grateful for that. I’m just trying to take advantage of the opportunity while enjoying the moment.”
The organization holds Contreras in extremely high regard. They didn’t acquire a long-term solution at the position this offseason, and part of their contentment with stop-gap options links back to Contreras.
In the eyes of many, Contreras possesses all-around potential that’s near impossible to find in today’s climate. Athletic catchers with plus offense and solid-to-better defense are crowned jewels. They’re baseball’s rarest assets. Yet the Contreras family might bear two.
“When you see a guy who’s that athletic, the sky’s the limit on what he’s capable of,” Fasano said. “Hopefully we can start working on the discipline part, get him versed in our language we use, be it the blocking, catching and throwing, or the actual game-planning stuff, how to set up and game plan and work with pitchers. I think he’s got a really good aptitude and he’s willing to learn. So I’m excited to see what it’s going to be like.”
Despite the budding hype, Contreras hasn’t played a game at the Double-A level. He hit .285/.347/.436 across two Single-A levels last season, adding 11 homers and 24 doubles. He showed improving patience at the plate and game-management ability.
No one’s more excited to see Contreras in spring training than Fasano, who hasn’t watched much of his protege in game action. His skill set warrants comparisons to some of the better modern catchers, including Willson.
“When you start seeing that level of athleticism, someone who can run, someone who can hit, someone who can throw, they start to get fewer and far between behind the plate,” Fasano said. “So you’re talking about the (J.T.) Realmutos of the world. Obviously his brother is a tremendous athlete. Buster Posey from five or six years ago. Those are the type of guys that you see who are that athletic. Those are some of the three you could compare to.”
It’s early to bet on Contreras, but the Braves haven’t shied away from bold faith in their prospects. They were supposed to cash in chips this winter, but never matched up on a deal. Their 2018 success was largely determined by youth, and 2019 will follow a similar script.
Rather than invest a premium in, say, Realmuto, the Braves were happy with a Flowers-McCann combo and retaining their prospect wealth.
Plus, they know Contreras is waiting in the wings. For as much pitching as the Braves have assembled, their system is shorter on position players. Having a potential all-everything backstop, however, gives them something few organizations can claim.
And he might just be another season away.
“If he makes the same strides he made last year,” Fasano said, “who knows?”
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