“I think he can be better than me,” Willson Contreras told Cubs reporters on Saturday morning. “He has great talent, great tools. We worked out during the three months off that we had before we came to the Summer Camp. And he really impressed me. Before, I didn't have the chance to spend a lot of time with him in training, but from what I see, he has a lot of talent.”
William Contreras made his debut when he served as the Braves’ catcher for the eighth inning of Friday’s 1-0 Opening Day loss at Citi Field. He will make his first career start when the Braves and Mets conclude their three-game series in front of ESPN’s national audience on Sunday night.
But his most memorable moment from this weekend likely occurred in Saturday’s 5-3, 10-inning win over the Mets. He capped the decisive three-run frame with his first career hit, a pinch-hit RBI double off Hunter Strickland.
“[The ball] is definitely going to my family,” he said through an interpreter. “I consider us one big team. So it’s definitely going to them. It’s going to be special.”
Though the 21-year-old William lost some key development time because the Minor League season was erased by the coronavirus this year, he did benefit from the chance to spend much of the past few months with his older brother, who was a National League All-Star in 2018 and '19.
“He needs experience, like we all know,” Willson Contreras said. “He needs some more games. He will need to keep playing baseball. He will learn. He's willing to listen. And the special part was that I gave him tips and he listened. So his attitude got much better. His emotions got a lot better. And I think that's why he showed up to camp, he had a great Summer Camp and that's why he's there.”
The younger Contreras was actually rushed to the big leagues this week because both of the Braves’ primary catchers -- Travis d’Arnaud and Tyler Flowers -- are still in Atlanta because they have been showing symptoms linked to COVID-19.
Contreras, who ranks as the Braves' No. 9 prospect per MLB Pipeline, rose to the Double-A level for the final few months of the 2019 season. But there were some concerns about his offensive potential until he adjusted his swing over the past few months and he showed much more promise during Summer Camp.
His bat garnered more attention after he hit an opposite-field homer against Sean Newcomb during an intrasquad game. Contreras totaled just six homers in 381 combined at-bats at the Class A Advanced and Double-A levels last year.
“Physically and mentally, he’s growing up and maturing,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said. “He’s a very cool kid. This is a great experience for him.”
d’Arnaud and Flowers update
Asked if he had an update regarding d’Arnaud and Flowers on Saturday, Snitker said, “Yep, still not feeling great.”
d’Arnaud became symptomatic before Wednesday’s exhibition game against the Marlins, and Flowers started showing symptoms before the team traveled to New York on Thursday. Neither has tested positive yet for COVID-19. The results from tests completed on Friday will likely be received by the team at some point on Saturday.
With d’Arnaud and Flowers’ return uncertain, Jonathan Morales is traveling with the Braves as a member of the taxi squad. Morales is a 25-year-old catcher who played at Mississippi and Triple-A Gwinnett last year.
Along with their top two catchers, the Braves opened this season without All-Star reliever Will Smith, who remains asymptomatic, but unable to join the team because he has not yet generated the necessary negative COVID tests.
So they certainly understand why this year it’s even more important to hoard depth, which they added to on Friday by acquiring left-handed slugger Scott Schebler from the Reds for cash considerations.
Schebler missed most of last season with multiple injuries, including a torn labrum that was surgically repaired in August. The 29-year-old outfielder runs well and rates as an above-average defender But it remains to be seen whether he can rekindle the power that helped him hit 30 homers in a career-best 2017 season.
“He’s another dangerous bat,” Snitker said. “I don’t know what the plan is per se. I guess we’ll just get him with the [pool group] in Gwinnett [County] and then see where we’re at. Our player depth is not great. So any time we have a chance to add somebody, I know [GM Alex Anthopoulos] is looking to do that because anything can happen. But I’m not 100 percent sure where he’s going to fit.”