TDG’S Triple Play: Atlanta Braves!
The Triple Play is back for a fifth season! This regular feature is broken down by senior writer Phil Barrington and he is joined by a rotating panel of some of the best Dynasty Baseball writers in the business. If you’re new to the Triple Play, this series breaks down an arm, a bat, and a prospect within each organization for your reading pleasure!
William Contreras, Age: 24, Position: C
Analysis by: Aaron Cumming
It’s about time we talk about one of the most important players in 2022. A key cog on a division-winning team. An All-Star starter. One of the most improved players in all of baseball. A … backup catcher? With William Contreras emerging as Atlanta’s part-time catcher, part-time DH, and full-time stud, the team now has an embarrassment of riches behind the dish. Prior to this season, with starter Travis d’Arnaud already locked in, the club signed Manny Piña to be the backup, bumping Contreras back to the minors to begin the campaign after a lackluster rookie season in 2021. An April injury to Piña forced Contreras back up, and he never looked back.
Hermano de Poder
William Contreras was recalled on April 28th, during a series against the Cubs, and he was able to share an incredible moment with his older brother Willson, the All-Star catcher for Chicago.
In his first five starts after being recalled, William Contreras launched four home runs. He added three more before the month of May was over. His 55-grade raw power finally turned into major league game power this year. After flashing that power with eight home runs in 52 games last season, as well as registering a 92nd percentile max exit velocity in 2021, he became even more prodigious in 2022, finishing with 20 home runs in 97 games and peaking at a 97th percentile, 115.2 MPH blast.
In addition to the power, Contreras has hit .278 while decreasing his strikeout rate from last year and maintaining a double-digit walk rate. This mix of power and patience has resulted in a 138 wRC+, tops among catchers with at least 250 plate appearances. Most Braves fans thought they traded away their future catcher earlier this year in the Matt Olson deal when they dealt Shea Langeliers, so it would have taken a massive leap of faith to predict Contreras’s breakout this season. This performance is not without base, though, as he hit .273 across all levels of the minors.
“He Was Framed; The Defense Rests”
While Contreras’s skills *at* the plate have always been notable, his skills *behind* the plate left something to be desired. Defense isn’t really relevant to fantasy, but it could preclude him from maintaining his vital catcher eligibility. This season saw him make massive strides in his defense, with the benefit of self-growth, regular playing time, and the tutelage of current starter d’Arnaud. “Any question he has, any little thing I say, any piece of advice that pops in my head in any situation. I just try to let him know what I’m thinking and he lets me know what he’s thinking so we can talk it out. That’s the best way to learn,” d’Arnaud told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution recently. This progression has certainly showed up in his new framing skills. Check out this gem:
William Contreras, Elite Framing. 🖼️ pic.twitter.com/72AiWt5deT— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) September 27, 2022
At just 25 years old to start the 2023 season, Contreras has his entire prime ahead of him. He will have the benefit of another excellent catcher sharing catching duties, preserving each others’ health, and guiding him to maximize his potential for at least one more year. With a solid core locked in for years to come, this lineup should continue to offer ample opportunity for counting stats as well. He entered this year as our 48th ranked catcher, but will almost certainly be in or near the top five going into next year. Short of Adley Rutschman and Will Smith, there may not be a more desirable young catcher in the majors.
Bryce Elder, Age: 23, Position: SP
Analysis by: Ryan Felix Fernandes
This is Ludacris!!!!
In the ATL there is one thing they are known for outside of Coca-Cola, Fox Bros Bar-B-Q, Primetime’s 2 Legit to Quit jheri curl, and Ludacris; and that is starting pitching. Well, it might not be up there with all of those. And yes kids…. Ludacris is a LOT better than all these young guys like Lil Yachty, Gunna, and 21 Savage. No need to Act a Fool! I just had to throw that out there! But, yes the city of Southern Hospitality boasted maybe the best pitching rotation EVER assembled back in 1993 Baby! Now almost twenty years later the Braves are starting to put together a rotation that can contend for league’s best in any Area Codes. A rotation that boasts Max Fried, Spencer Strider, and Kyle Wright along with Charlie Morton and Jake Odorizzi who are both Money Makers and on the other side of thirty which might mean this off-season Braves management might tell them to Move B*tch (get out the way) for yet another prospect that has come out of nowhere in the Braves farm system.
Let me Rollout to you Bryce Elder, an unheralded pitcher that had been tabbed an average reliever at best ever since being drafted in the 5th round in 2020. After his major league debut earlier this year in which he started a handful of games in the very beginning of this season in which hitters Stomp-ed him with a slash line of .254/.384/.437 with a .364 wOBA. He was sent down to the minors until late August and many fantasy managers were wondering How Low he would fall in the pecking order for the Braves. Well, he has come back with a new approach that is making many Stand Up and take notice. The question now is Elder, a) someone you need to target next season and beyond or b) will you need to Get Back to the guys you originally were looking to target for What’s Your Fantasy team needs. Yeah! Ludacris has a lot of hits!
Searching for the Peppermint Mines for Yukon Cornelius
The Braves were ranked as low as the 27th best farm system so you might be asking yourself what did everyone miss. Well, don’t ask me… maybe they are injecting them with that Coca-Cola Nitro? Unfortunately for me because I listened to those experts I missed out on Spencer Strider, Michael Harris, and Vaughn Grissom who as many of you know all made an impact for the Braves and fantasy teams this season. So when I came across the buzz about Elder I knew I had to pay close attention so I followed everything I could about the guy and that is when I came across maybe the best comp ever. “Bryce Elder is just Yukon Cornelius with a pinpoint sinker/slider mix.” All credit goes to Cody (@CodyRogers10) from his tweet here.
If you aren’t familiar with who Yukon Cornelius is; back in 1964 he was a character in the Christmas television special Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. He was a prospector who kept saying he was looking for gold and silver throughout the show and helped Rudolph get away from the Bumble (the Abominable Snowman). Spoiler Alert! Not only did he help Rudolph get away from the Bumble to save Christmas with his quick thinking, but also helped reform the Bumble who for some reason wanted to be an interior designer at the end of the special? Also, Yukon had a fetish for smelling and licking the pick that he used to mine to see if he found anything! No, I’m not joking. You need to look it up on YouTube and see for yourself if you aren’t familiar with this.
Now, besides the fact that Edler is the real life Yukon Cornelius as Cody said…that I pretty much ruined that for you but I can tie this all together. After Elder was sent back to the minors in May he was also looking for something. He was not able to put away major league hitters with only a 5.59 Ks per nine innings and an even bigger issue of 7.06 Walks per nine. Elder had to retool his entire approach and mechanics to be more effective. To his credit and the credit of the Braves R&D department he was able to do that by simplifying his approach to both right and left-handed hitters.
In April, he started four games in which he relied on a changeup almost 20% of the time with mixed results. So he pretty much ditched the changeup and focused on crafting his sinker which he originally threw at a 40% clip to all hitters to usage of over 60% of the time now. His sinker which averages 91 mph and a drop off the table effect that he pumps inside (especially to right handed hitters) early in counts and uses that same sinker to paint in and out of the strike zone to get hitters to chase. He pairs that with a slider that has a wicked break to lefties and throws 33% of the time.
Elder throws an average four-seamer, cutter, and a slightly above average two-seamer which he uses to backdoor these pitches. He won’t light up the radar gun with either, but has good control of all three. During his time in the minors he also went with a higher release point and moved it from right to left. With all of these changes along with a lot more aggressive approach he almost doubled his Ks per nine to 9.02 and dramatically dropped his walks per nine to 2.21 this stint in the majors with only .8% barrel contact and 29.1 % hard contact compared to 4% barrel and 35.75% hard hit balls in April. With his control and simplicity of approach, Elder has become efficient to the point that his complete game against the Nationals made Braves’ reporters call it Maddux-esque. None of them are calling him the next Maddux, but his pinpoint control and approach to hitters he has shown flashes of what Maddux used to do on the mound.
Now does that mean he is a guy you need to target next year? I’m no expert but in the end of that special Yukon was part of a happy ending in which he became filthy rich and celebrated, finally finding his peppermint mine. Ask yourself, does my reasoning seems a lot less Ludacris than what the “experts” came up with when they evaluated the Braves minor league system before this season?
Owen Murphy, Age: 19, Position: RHP, Level: Single-A
Analysis by: Phil Barrington
The Golden Child
Murphy, from Chicago, Illinois (same place as Ryan and myself) is a 6’1” 190-pound 2022 first round draft pick of the Braves, #20 overall. He attended Riverside-Brookfield high school in Brookfield, Illinois (that’s where the “good” zoo in Chicago is) where he also played football. Murphy was a top 3B as well as a pitcher, where he won the Illinois Player of the Year in 2022. The right-handed Murphy was top 25 in his high school class, and had been committed to Notre Dame since his sophomore year of high school. But the Braves came calling for the dual threat prospect, and a $2.56 million signing bonus later, and he’s poised to be another great Braves pitching prospect.
Sadly, the Braves are featuring him as a pitcher only and not a hitter (so no Ohtani dreams here). Though as a hitter, he was given a fifth-round pre-draft grade. While his hitting stats don’t matter (but maybe they should?) he hit .548 with 17 homers over his senior season; not too shabby.
On the mound, Murphy racked up 137 Ks in only 58 1/3 innings, along with a tiny 0.12 ERA; he only gave up ten hits and four walks! Four no hitters (two of those were perfect games) cemented his first-round draft status as a pitcher.
The Braves like his pitch mix, including a fastball that tops out at 94 mph, a plus slider, along with a changeup and curve. MLB has him as the Braves 4th best prospect with a 50-future grade; the way the Braves come up with good, mid-rotation starters there’s no reason to think Murphy won’t be another of those when its his time.
In 2023, after two games for the Rookie Ball Braves, he pitched in the three games before the end of the season with the Single-A Augusta GreenJackets. He had a rough go those early outings, but ended the season on a high note; striking out five in four innings with no hits and only one walk in his final start of the season. Presumably Murphy will return to Augusta in 2023, with a good chance to increase his prospect ranking.
Pitching is always risky (especially high school ones), to take in First Year Player Drafts; injuries, ineptitude, and longer development time compared to hitters are just a few reasons to target hitters in your FYPD. My personal strategy of drafting pitchers in FYPDs is to trade them; for example, I took Andrew Painter in a few Dynasties last offseason and do not have him on any of those teams as of present; he shot up prospect boards (with good reason, he looks like a stud); but a TJ or shoulder injury and he could be out two seasons of development so I decided to capitalize.
With that being said, as forever the optimist, investing a later pick in Murphy may pay dividends sooner rather than later, as a positive start to 2023 plus Atlanta hype could make him a valuable trade piece in season.