Is There a Future Catcher Controversy in Atlanta?

William Contreras, Spring Training 2021. Photo credit Benjamin Rush, forloveofbaseball on Flickr and on Instagram

The fantasy wasteland that is catcher has the potential to have one shining bright spot over the next handful of years and that bright spot could be coming from the southeast. There are very few franchises that can lose both of their Opening Day catchers to injury early in the season and have the potential to fill in for that production with guys in their own system. The Atlanta Braves have depth behind the dish that will rival any other club.

Travis d’Arnaud was projected to catch somewhere around 120 games for the Braves this season before injury. While d’Arnaud has been a staple in the Braves lineup since joining the squad, he isn’t necessarily considered the future at backstop for the club. In addition to him being injured, he is also a free agent after the season.

The Braves do however have three catching prospects that have the potential to be capable big leaguers. Alex Jackson has proven that he has some major pop in the bat and the Braves are likely to keep him around for organizational depth. He has been the first guy to get the call in emergency situations over the last few years, but now even he finds himself on the IL. With a couple of promising backstops below him, he may be the odd man out down the road.

Alex Jackson, Spring Training 2020. Photo credit Benjamin Rush, @forloveofbaseball on Instagram

The Jackson and d’Arnaud injuries opened the door for one of the two guys that we all think will be in the long term plans at catcher for the Braves. William Contreras captured the hearts of Braves fans in 2020 when he went 4/10 in his major league debut. Now, the Braves are riding with the 23-year-old as their main catching option with a mix of journeyman veterans as backups. It has just been 18 games this season (entering play May 26), but the Venezuelan product is fighting to capitalize on this opportunity and put himself in a position to be the starting catcher in 2022. Contreras is slashing .214/.333/.482 with four homers (entering play May 26) and has come through in some big spots. While there appears to be some fundamental work to be done behind the dish, Contreras is showing the potential to be a viable fantasy option with the bat. However, the Braves backstop buck doesn’t stop at Contreras

The Braves drafted Shea Langeliers in the first round of the 2019 draft out of Baylor. He was largely seen as a defense-first catcher when he came out of college, which doesn’t hurt at catcher in fantasy because good defense means playing time, but he has also proven he has a line drive approach that can play in pro ball. We’ve only seen about 300 pro at-bats from Langeliers, but he has consistently put the ball in play and hit it hard at that. His stats aren’t showing up in the batting average category so far at Double-A, but his strikeout to walk ratio continues to shine.

With Contreras being the man in the bigs and Langeliers getting his first taste of Double-A in 2021, this will be a very telling year for the future at catcher for the Braves. While many fantasy “gurus” will tell you not to stock catching prospects, we deep-league players know their stats count just the same as everyone else’s. So, what if you have to choose one of these guys?

Jackson certainly has the most power of the three, but not the greatest overall skill set. Contreras has the lineage, a solid hit tool, and has shown poise and leadership at the big league level. He has shown true development signs, especially at the alternate site last year, and I’d venture to say he has the highest ceiling of the three. If you like to gamble, Contreras may be your man.

In my opinion, the top option of the three, and I have been blasted over this on Twitter in the past, is Langeliers. The floor is certainly the highest of the options as he has the defensive skill set that will make him a sure-fire big leaguer, but the more important factor for Langeliers is that evaluators are starting to come around on his offensive skills as well. He has raw power and can hit the ball hard, but his plate approach is what ultimately makes him extremely appealing. Langeliers should be a major fantasy value at the catcher position in OBP and OPS leagues. While the average may be down, he is proving to be an on base machine. Hopefully, all of this leads to some healthy competition behind the dish for Atlanta in the near future.

While we are here, how about some love for an organizational favorite of mine, Logan Brown.

I reside in Carrollton, Georgia and love everything baseball. I graduated from the University of West Georgia with a Bachelor’s Degree in Sport Management. I have a passion for the minor leagues and have high hopes of visiting as many minor league parks as I can. I enjoy the statistical side of the game, especially sabermetrics. I am also an avid baseball card collector and fantasy baseball player.

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