Braves make surprise lineup change: What does it mean?

The Atlanta Braves have made a surprising lineup change with William Contreras ahead of Monday night’s matchup against the Phillies.

Per Braves beat writer Mark Bowman, the Braves are going to be giving young catcher William Contreras his first ever (major league) start in the outfield, as he will bat second and play left field in tonight’s game.

To some, this may not be a shocking revelation, as Braves skipper Brian Snitker suggested this move could be coming early on in the season…

(Contreras) gives you a little versatility. He can go to the outfield, and we’re gonna have him start taking some balls at third. I mean, catching is his main thing; we still view him as a catcher. But with his athleticism and ability to maybe potentially move him around the diamond, we’re gonna work him out at different spots.”

Contreras is currently the No. 2 catching option on the Braves depth chart behind incumbent starter Travis d’Arnaud. Manny Piña was brought aboard over the 2021-2022 offseason but he is set to undergo wrist surgery and miss the remainder of the season.

So, what exactly does this move mean for the Braves, William Contreras?

The only other options that are even remotely major-league ready are Ryan Casteel and Chadwick Tromp, both of whom are not on the 40-man roster at the moment. So there’s a high possibility that this surprise start in the outfield doesn’t mean much at all, it could just be a move to get Contreras some expanded versatility.

On the other hand, Tromp has some major-league experience under his belt and with Eddie Rosario out due to laser eye surgery, the Braves could easily bring Tromp up and allow Contreras to test out his newfound positional versatility.

Contreras has burst out of the gate with six home runs and nine RBI through his first 10 games at the major-league level this season. He has five walks and just nine strikeouts as well and has an OPS of 1.130 during this hot-stretch.

Behind Ronald Acuña Jr. (right field) and Adam Duvall (center field), there is little certainty in the Braves outfield/DH rotation. Marcell Ozuna has been functioning as the club’s primary left fielder in recent days but he is no longer of any value on defense and fits this Braves club best as a designated hitter. Travis Demeritte and Guillermo Heredia are on hand as fill-in corner outfield options but neither are a lock to remain on this team for much longer.

The Braves have been using a limited-bench through the first month or so of the major league season, as the only other player aside from Heredia and Demeritte available off the bench is the versatile Orlando Arcia. Arcia is an excellent defender in the infield and can also play left field as needed, but the Braves are going to need to tap into some other player’s versatility, hence trying Contreras in left.

It’s worth noting that tonight will not be Contreras’ first outfield appearance ever. The 24-year-old younger brother of Cubs catcher Willson Contreras made his first appearance in left field for the Triple-A Gwinnett Stripers back on April 27 of this season. He also has one game under his belt in right field back on April 20.

It remains to be seen whether the Braves will continue to give William Contreras the occasional starts in the corner outfield, but the reps certainly don’t hurt. If the club can bring up another catcher to allow Contreras to move around defensively, he could carve out a significant role in left field for himself.

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