The best thing about the Braves winning the 2021 World Series is that this was an incredibly unlucky season for this team and they still found a way to win the entire thing. There were plenty of low points and bad circumstances that were seemingly synonymous with a lost year. Instead, they just ended up being speedbumps on a path to lifting the Commissioner’s Trophy. I’m not going to walk through all of them (been there, done that) but I will focus on what was Atlanta’s main weak spot for most of the 2021 season: The catcher’s spot.
Going into 2021, the Braves looked to be in solid shape at the catcher’s spot. Travis d’Arnaud was coming off of a great 2020 at the plate and has proven himself to be a solid catcher behind the plate. He was going to get the lion’s share of games while William Contreras served as the backup with Alex Jackson getting some action every now and then. It seemed like a great plan, but baseball man plans while the baseball gods laugh. After d’Arnaud went down at the start of May with a thumb injury, things got to a point where Kevan Smith was getting regular time as the backstop. With all due respect to Major League Baseball player Kevan Smith, you never want your team to go full Kevan, and the Braves went full Kevan for a while there. It was a rough time!
To say that disaster struck the Braves at the catcher spot would be an understatement. It was to the point where, in terms of wRC+, the Braves were basically playing with two pitchers in their lineup for long stretches of this season. As a unit, Braves catchers finished the season with a collective wRC+ of 58 — the worst mark in the National League and the second-worst mark in all of baseball. It is no coincidence that this team started getting better when d’Arnaud returned. Even as Travis was in the midst of a down year, his production served as a marked improvement from everybody who replaced him. The Braves managed to weather the storm with putrid plate appearances from their catchers in 2021 but it’s a certainty that they never want to deal with a situation like that ever again.
Their signing of Manny Piña is a big step towards adding some stability in the case that Travis d’Arnaud goes down again. 2021 was one of Piña’s better seasons and it also doesn’t seem like a breakout or outlier season for him, either. What you have seen from him in terms of his plate production is what you’re going to get and his defense is just as solid as well. Basically, he should serve as an ideal backup for d’Arnaud while he’s here. Despite the fact that he’s probably going to play around 80-something games, I’d feel pretty comfortable with seeing him out there since there shouldn’t be too much of a dropoff in performance whenever he plays.
So, now that the Braves have gone with bringing reliable veteran presences to the catcher’s spot, what does this mean for William Contreras and Shea Langeliers? Naturally, speculation began to ramp up about either of these two guys being included in any potential trades going forward. After all, two years is a long time to wait when you’ve already had a decent-enough taste of the majors (in the case of Contreras) or you figure to be on the cusp of seeing the show at some point the near future (as is the case for Shea). When it comes to Contreras, I think that he’d be the likelier one of these two to get moved at some point. While the Braves are perfectly fine with holding on to their prospects, Alex Anthopoulos did show last season that he’ll move on a young player or two if he’s got an opportunity to improve the big league squad.
While the Braves have gotten a taste of what Contreras can do, they have yet to see exactly what they have in Langeliers. So Langeliers might end up being the catcher of the future once Travis d’Arnaud and Manny Piña are finished here and Contreras may move on elsewhere. That’s speculation on my part, though. For all we know, the Braves could be perfectly satisfied with keeping both of them in their system while letting them do their thing in a season or two while bringing them up in case of emergency with the two veterans. Still, I wouldn’t be shocked if one of the two young catchers did get dealt at some point.
These are good problems to have, though! If your potential organizational depth chart at catcher looks like d’Arnaud-Piña-Contreras-Langeliers then you are doing pretty well. Langeliers has plenty of potential after a wonderful season on the farm, Contreras should at least be better in 2022 after getting a solid amount of major league experience in 2021, Piña is your prototypical backup catcher and d’Arnaud’s bat still has plenty of pop in it. Either way, it’s pretty clear what the goal is with both d’Arnaud’s contract extension and Piña’s signing.
The Braves have had a history of having solid-to-great catching for a long time now and the team is determined to have 2021 be the outlier. Emergencies can still happen, but at least the options the Braves now have behind the glass are able to put out any potential fires at the backstop position.