William Contreras leads Gwinnett to extra-inning win; Kyle Muller and Tanner Gordon toss quality-starts

Thursday, August 26, 2021

-Clint Manry

Thanks to losses by both the Phillies and Mets last night, Atlanta’s NL East lead increases to five, even while they remain idle. The Braves will need its rest anyways, though, because Friday begins a three-game weekend series with the best team in baseball, the Giants.

As the Braves take their two days of rest, the farm continues on. With the M-Braves game postponed and the FCL team also off, Gwinnett headlined yesterday’s minor league slate.

Here’s a recap of Wednesday’s action down on the farm…

(57-41) GWINNETT STRIPERS

W, 5-4 (F/10) vs. Nashville

SP, K. Muller – 6 IP, 2 H, 2 BB, 4 K

CF, C. Pache – 3 for 4, 2B, 2 RBI, SB

C, W. Contreras – 2 for 4, RBI, R, BB

LF, T. Demeritte – 2 for 5

Lefty Kyle Muller continues to impress in his bid to return to the big league rotation. The 23-year-old started Wednesday’s matchup versus the Sounds and once again kept the damage to a minimum. After allowing a single in the opening frame, Muller held Nashville hitless all the way until the sixth, giving up a harmless base-hit before finishing up his outing. Overall, the big southpaw totaled 90 pitches and induced seven groundouts to go with two flyouts. Last night’s gem now gives Muller 12-straight scoreless innings with the Stripers as his two starts there has featured just three hits allowed and eight strikeouts. With Huascar Ynoa back for Atlanta, and Ian Anderson nearing a return as well, Muller may be on the outside looking in as far as the rotation goes. However, he could become a real weapon out of the bullpen next month. Regardless, the kid is throwing the ball well.

The Stripers ended up winning last night’s extra-inning battle due to a go-ahead RBI single by catcher William Contreras. However, the highlight of the game perhaps goes to outfielder Cristian Pache, who made THIS play in the sixth…

As you can see above, Pache also finished with three hits last night, pushing his season AVG in Gwinnett up to a respectable .261. The Braves top prospect has picked a nice time to get hot at the plate as Pache is currently hitting .333 with nine XBH in 17 games this month. Look for the 22-year-old to be added to Atlanta’s roster in September.

(58-39) MISSISSIPPI BRAVES

PPD vs. Pensacola

(43-54) ROME BRAVES

L, 8-6 (F/10) vs. Bowling Green

SP, T. Gordon – 6 IP, 4 H, 2 ER, 8 K, 2 HR

3B, R. Delgado – 2 for 5, 3B, 2B, 2 RBI

DH, J. Franklin – 1 for 5, HR, RBI

2B, L. Waddell – 2 for 3, R

RF, S. Michel – 1 for 4, 3B, 2 RBI, R

LF, D. Campbell – 1 for 4, 2B, R

Bowling Green walked it off in the tenth against Rome last night with a two-run homer by Evan Edwards, however, R-Braves starter Tanner Gordon put together another impressive outing on the mound. Also, this year’s fifth-round pick, shortstop Luke Waddell, stays hot with the bat adding two hits for Rome. Waddell is 4 for 7 over his last two games, including a pair of home runs. He’ll enter Thursday hitting .245 with a .715 OPS so far this season.

(41-57) AUGUSTA GREENJACKETS

L, 9-1 vs. Charleston

SP, R. Cusick – (L), 3 IP, 4 H, 2 R, BB, 4 K

RP, G. Rodriguez – 1.2 IP, BB, 4 K

1B, C. Bunnell – 1 for 4, HR, RBI

C, A. Zebrowski – 1 for 3

RF, C. Robinson – 1 for 3

The Braves top pick in the 2021 MLB Draft, righty Ryan Cusick, made his third pro start last night for Augusta, laboring through a 55-pitch outing. Cusick has been on a pretty short leash pitch-count wise, but so far his results have been strong. Counting Wednesday’s start, the 21-year-old sports a 1.17 ERA in 7.2 innings thus far, including a whopping 15 strikeouts (17.6 K/9) and three walks. Another 2021 draftee that has enjoyed his first taste of pro ball, catcher Adam Zebrowski added another hit last night, pushing his AVG for the season up to .333 (.833 OPS). Zebrowski has only played in seven games for Augusta thus far, but he’s managed to record a hit in all but two of them. For a 13th-round pick out of a small college, the 20-year-old is looking more and more like a steal of a pick for the Braves.

William Contreras recalled to Atlanta as future looks bright behind the plate

Saturday, August 21, 2021

-Clint Manry

During a 28-game span (May 8 – June 2) this season, 23-year-old catcher William Contreras shined for the Braves and showed everyone why, for several years now, he’s consistently been one of the top prospects in the organization. In that stretch, Contreras hit .264 for Atlanta, adding six home runs, a pair of doubles and even a triple while tallying 20 RBI – good for a solid 123 wRC+. For roughly a month, it looked as if the rookie catcher was on his way to putting together one of the better rookie performances for the Braves. And despite the team’s overall struggles, watching the young catcher perform was a must-see.

However, as the month of June progressed, Contreras’ performance declined. Following nearly 30 games of the above-average play mentioned above, his next 16 games featured a 5 for 51 stretch (.098 AVG) and eventually a demotion. Just like that, Contreras was back in the minors, where his 2021 campaign begun. But instead of giving up, it appears Contreras used his setback this summer to work even harder.

From Day 1 with Triple-A Gwinnett, Contreras has just kept hitting. That month-long stint with the Stripers may’ve felt like forever for him, but it’s pretty impressive how quickly he was able to turn things around. After being lucky to pick up a hit in an entire week in the majors, Contreras belted seven long balls in a 10-game span with Gwinnett in mid-July. In terms of turn-arounds, what Contreras has done during his time in the minors is pretty damn amazing…

William Contreras’ monthly splits (2021)

June (MLB) – 70 PA, .200 AVG, 27.1 K%, 4 XBH, 52 wRC+

July (AAA) – 76 PA, .343 AVG, 17.1 K%, 13 XBH, 197 wRC+

August (AAA) – 49 PA, .267 AVG, 24.5 K%, 2 XBH, 77 wRC+

As you can see, so far this month Contreras has cooled a bit with the Stripers as he’s hitless in his last eight AB, including a .167 AVG over his last nine games in Triple-A. But his body of work during the month or so spent in the minors appears to have definitely paid off. Regardless, we’ll get to see real soon as the Braves announced on Saturday that not only is Contreras recalled to the majors, but he’ll also catch Touki Toussaint on Sunday for the Braves series finale versus the Orioles.

A future at catcher

Contreras being recalled comes just a day after the Braves extended starting catcher Travis d’Arnaud to another two-year, $16-million contract, which includes an $8-millon club-option for the 2024 season. The 32-year-old veteran has missed a good bit of time this year, but given his contributions in 2020 and how well he has meshed with this Braves pitching staff, keeping d’Arnaud for 2-3 more seasons seems like a no-brainer. Through Saturday, the former Met has posted a .288 AVG and slugged 13 home runs (122 wRC+) in 73 career games with Atlanta – good for 1.9 fWAR. d’Arnaud hasn’t really had a chance to get going in 2021, for that thumb injury spoiled his ability to put up big numbers; but when healthy, this is a solid big league catcher, and one that should provide the Braves lineup with an above-average bat for the foreseeable future, not to mention help guide the organization’s two prospect catchers.

Which brings us to the future. Right now the Braves organizational depth chart looks incredible. I’ve already mentioned the gains Contreras has accomplished, but then there’s also Atlanta’s former top pick from 2019, Shea Langeliers (ranked fourth on my 2021 Braves Midseason Prospect List).

Langeliers, still just 23-years-old, is on track to potentially start the 2022 season in Triple-A after he has literally demolished the Double-A level with Mississippi this year. Check out where the kid ranks within the Double-A South League in numerous key stats in 2021…

  • 74 hits (8th)
  • 19 HR (t-3rd)
  • 48 runs (t-5th)
  • 42 RBI (t-10th)
  • .268 AVG (7th)
  • 136 wRC+ (4th)
  • 24% line-drive rate (8th)
  • 47.4% fly-ball rate (5th)

Unfortunately it’s nearly impossible to find batted-ball metrics on minor leaguers, but it’s evident by just watching the kid that he’s hitting the ball much harder now into his second pro season. We thought we were just getting a defense-first catcher in Langeliers, but his hit tool is definitely more advanced than the 30-grade he received on draft day.

Oh, and just to confirm that none of his defensive skills have lacked during this offensive outburst, Langeliers has thrown out 43% of would-be base stealers so far this year. That’s well above the league average in the big leagues.

So all-in-all it’s an exciting time for the Braves regarding its trio of catchers. The seasoned presence that d’Arnaud will offer over these next couple of seasons behind the plate will no doubt aid in the development of Contreras, and in turn, eventually Langeliers as well. And even better, with the universal-DH an inevitability at this point, a need for an extra bat in the lineup will create even more options for the team, potentially opening up enough room for all three at some point. Either way, the Braves should be set at catcher… and that’s one less area GM Alex Anthopoulos needs to worry with heading into next winter.

William Contreras named Player of the Week

Tuesday, July 20, 2021

-Clint Manry

Yesterday I was on the road again (this time to Memphis for work), so I’m a little late with the post. But Monday’s minor league Player of the Week award again featured a Braves prospect…

Contreras takes home the award for his performance from last week’s slate of games. The 23-year-old catcher finished Gwinnett’s series versus Charlotte going 12 for 26 (.462 AVG) with three home runs, three doubles and 12 RBI in six games. Those impressive numbers also included a crazy night on Sunday in which Contreras went nuts at the plate with five RBI (a season-high). 

Since being optioned to Triple-A earlier this month, Contreras has been red-hot at the plate. In nine minor league games so far the third-ranked prospect (per my Braves Top 30) is slashing .429/.487/.829, good for a ridiculous 243 wRC+. Thus far Contreras has also cut his K rate by roughly 50% and is drawing more walks while with the Stripers.

Braves MiLB Daily Report: Freddy Tarnok strikes out 10 in Rome’s losing effort, while William Contreras stays hot with Gwinnett 

Saturday, July 17, 2021

-Clint Manry

The big league Braves dropped a game it should’ve won last night, losing 7-6 to the Rays after leading 5-3 through six innings (thanks to three homers combined in the fourth and fifth). It may be the second-half of the season, but it appears bullpen woes have followed this team. 

Now because I’m out of town and have very little time to put out a full minor league report, like yesterday I’ve stuck with just simply providing box scores and key stats from Friday’s games. Today though, since I have a little more time on my hands, I’ll also add a Top Performers blurb as well. All the scores and stats are still available below.

Friday’s Top Performers

William Contreras, C

Gwinnett

Since being optioned to Triple-A earlier this month, Contreras has hit exceptionally well with Gwinnett, now up to a .400 AVG and 1.184 OPS through his first seven games with the team. Last night, hitting fifth in the Stripers lineup, he finished 2 for 4 with a homer, adding on to Gwinnett’s lead in the sixth inning versus Charlotte. It’s still questionable whether or not we’ll see Contreras back in Atlanta this season, especially given Travis d’Arnaud has reportedly begun taking swings and is expected to come off the injured list in August. Plus, just hours ago, the Braves acquired D’Backs catcher Stephen Vogt in a one-for-one deal in exchange for FCL Braves first baseman Mason Berne. 

Jason Kipnis, 2B

Gwinnett

Kipnis has been solid with the Stripers all season, but lately he’s red-hot with the bat, hitting .350 in his last nine games. On Friday, the veteran second baseman went 3 for 4 and knocked in three runs, his second three-hit performance in his last three games and his first three-RBI finish since back on May 28. Johan Camargo is up with Atlanta at the moment, and rightfully so given how well he’s played with the Stripers. But sometimes I wonder if perhaps the Braves should give Kipnis a chance to provide utility work for the big league team. 

Bryce Elder, RHP

Mississippi

Elder improved his Double-A record to 3-0 last night as he tossed seven innings of four-hit ball against Tennessee, allowing two runs, walking three and striking out five.

Make that a 2.74 ERA with the M-Braves now for the 22-year-old — and tenth-ranked prospect on my Braves Top 30 — as he’s pitching even better in Double-A than he was back with High-A Rome. 

Greyson Jenista, OF

Mississippi

Folks, Jenista is now officially heating up. The 24-year-old is hitting .333 with six XBH in his last 12 games, after mostly struggling so far this season. Last night the big lefty-hitter slugged his third homer in his last nine games…

Jenista finished the game with three hits, his first three-hit performance in 2021.

Freddy Tarnok, RHP

Rome

Ranking 16th on my Top 30, Tarnok has struggled a bit with his control this season, currently walking 4.1 batters per nine to go with a homer-rate of 1.9 per nine. But last night the 22-year-old was tough as he struck out 10 Greensboro batters in five innings and allowed two runs from four hits (two walks). The right-handed Tarnok will enter his next start with a 4.76 ERA with Rome this season. 

Shean Michel, OF

Rome

The 23-year-old Michel provided most of Rome’s offense last night as he homered and knocked in three runs.


Friday’s Scores and Stats

(30-34) Gwinnett Stripers 

W, 5-3 vs. Charlotte 

SP, J. De La Cruz – 4 IP, 2 H, ER, 3 BB, 2 K

C, W. Contreras – 2 for 4, HR, RBI

2B, J. Kipnis – 3 for 4, 2B, 3 RBI

3B, S. Kazmar – 1 for 3, HR, RBI

Bullpen – 5 IP, 6 H, 2 ER, 2 BB, 6 K

(40-24) Mississippi Braves 

W, 6-4 vs. Tennessee 

SP, B. Elder – (W), 7 IP, 4 H, 2 ER, 3 BB, 5 K, HR

LF, G. Jenista – 3 for 4, HR, RBI

3B, C. Alexander – 1 for 4, HR, RBI

RF, J. Dean – 1 for 3, 3B, R, BB

RP, B. Wilson – 2 IP, 4 H, 2 ER, BB, 6 K

(33-31) Rome Braves

L, 5-4 vs. Greensboro 

SP, F. Tarnok – 5 IP, 4 H, 2 ER, 2 BB, 10 K, HR

RF, S. Michel – 1 for 4, HR, 3 RBI

1B, B. Langhorne – 2 for 4, HR, RBI

2B, C. Milligan – 1 for 4, R, BB

(28-35) Augusta GreenJackets 

L, 3-1 vs. Charleston 

SP, R. Munoz – 3 ⅔ IP, 2 BB, 3 K

SS, V. Grissom – 1 for 3, BB, SB

1B, B. Horne – 1 for 4, 2B

2B, C. Shepherd – 1 for 3, 2B

(4-6) FCL Braves

1-1 vs. Rays 1 (susp. bottom 1st)