Braves Add Ball To Pool; Contreras Impresses In Sim Games

I reported Wednesday that the Braves added first base prospect Bryce Ball to the 60-man player pool. The team made it official Thursday, adding him as a non-roster invitee.

With two players – Nick Markakis and Felix Hernandez – opting out, the Braves had more than enough room to add Ball. They’re now at 55 players for the pool.

Adding Ball while Freddie Freeman remains out while recovering from COVID-19 is not likely to be connected. Freeman is already starting to feel better and should return before it becomes a roster issue. Ball was likely added as the next man up among those worthy of being added. When the pool was first announced, I wrote that Ball was my highest-graded prospect not included and was a good candidate to get added at some point. I didn’t necessarily think it would be this soon, but things change quickly these days.

While I continue to say that anything can happen over the course of these 60 games and beyond, I doubt we see Ball on the major league field this year. He has 21 games of pro experience beyond short-season ball, and that was at Low-A Rome. He was a non-roster invitee to spring training, which was a big honor for someone right out of the draft and an indication that the Braves feel he can be pushed. That’s another reason why it’s not a surprise for him to be added to the pool. But, unless the Braves get desperate for a left-handed power bat that can possibly provide a shot in the arm, Ball seems destined to stick to the Gwinnett side of camp.

What could Ball provide if he does get a call? Power. Lots of it. He matches Alex Jackson for the best raw power in the system at 70 grade. It’s light-tower stuff with huge, easy carry from a massive frame that produces natural strength. He showed it in spring training by going down to get a pitch and carrying it out to left-center. What makes Ball unique as a first-base-only profile is the ability to track pitches and make consistent contact. He’s not the typical power-only bat, because he shows solid barrel awareness and covers the plate well. He may still get beat inside at times because of his length, but he has an idea at the plate and knows when to settle for contact to all fields.

In the field, Ball is behind with the glove and hasn’t reached average at first. He’s better suited at designated hitter but can play first in limited amounts.

CONTRERAS IMPRESSES: The other Braves prospect in the news right now is William Contreras.

Still listed as my top catching prospect, a half-grade above Shea Langeliers, Contreras continues to show the advanced athleticism rarely seen at the position. He has a solid, rangy frame with smooth, athletic motions. He remains raw behind the plate but has the framework to be a solid defender with a plus arm.

Contreras had a down year at the plate in 2019 by focusing on defense and struggling to handle advanced pitching. Catchers sometimes need extra development for this reason, and Contreras, more than most, needed a full season to bounce back. Instead, he’s trying to make the most of the situation by showing out in sim games.

On Wednesday, he worked a deep count and took a walk against Mike Soroka. In his second at-bat, he covered the outer half and took a line drive the other way for a single off Shane Greene. It was a more controlled swing and showed that he tracked the ball well while staying within himself.

On Thursday, Contreras took it a step further by launching a huge home run to right-center off Sean Newcomb. He again stayed within himself, covered the outer half and used his lift and extension to pummel Newcomb’s offering. In his second at-bat, he again tracked the ball well and worked a deep count against A.J. Minter.

It should be noted that these are sim game results, but it’s a positive sign that Contreras looks this comfortable against major league pitching. He’s always had more power than many give him credit for, as I wrote in 2018 that he has above-average raw. It’s a matter of seeing the ball and allowing his lengthy swing to tap into the power. If Contreras can indeed turn a corner at the plate and reach that 50+ hit tool, his prospect status could skyrocket beyond the level it reached in 2018. I believe in his long-term potential, and that’s why I’ve stuck with his overall grade and placement within the system.

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