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Willson Contreras emerges as Cubs best catching prospect

Willson Contreras emerges as Cubs best catching prospect

Last year I had the opportunity to watch the Cubs instructional league in Arizona.  I wandered over to where the catchers were running drills and one player jumped out -- almost quite literally, from the pack.

The Cubs have some solid defensive catchers and there were many good ones that day -- good fundamentals, good technique.  And then there was Willson Contreras.  He wasn't as technically sound as many of the others, but his athleticism was evident. Contreras exploded out of his crouch and fired bullets to 2nd base.  He pounced on baseballs during the bunting drills as if it were Game 7 of the World Series.  There was this intensity about him.   These weren't boring drills to him.

Who was this kid?

Contreras was signed as a teenager out of Venezuela -- as a 3B.  He made his debut in the DSL at age 17 and was nothing special.  In fact, it was pretty forgettable.  He hit just .205 with a single HR.  He repeated the league and improved to .313 with a .780 OPS and earned a promotion to Boise.  He spent two years there as well and hit .268/.311/.352 with 5 HRs over 124 games.  Again, not very impressive.

But there was one important development in his second season at Boise.  The Cubs decided to try him at catcher.  That appears to have been an inspired decision.

I came back from Arizona and raved about this kid's talent but had to admit the numbers didn't illicit a whole lot of excitement.

And they say that numbers don't lie.  Except that they do sometimes, especially when you're talking about teenagers playing at the lowest levels of professional baseball.

Still, when I made my Cubs top prospect lists, against my better judgment I decided to leave Contreras off the list.   I hedged my bet and waited to see how he'd handle full season A ball.

Fast forward to today and we see that Contreras had 2 hits today and is now hitting .307/.398/.568 and 5 HRs in 88 ABs.  So far, so good.

Every so often, I'll get to sit near scouts and sort of pick their brain.  Most of the time I'm bouncing my own thoughts off of them and they give me their own opinions.  Today at the game, I decided to ask an open-ended question to a rival scout sitting next to me,

"Who do you like on the Kane County team?"

Although we talked about a few players over the course of the next few innings, he gave me two names off the bat.  The first was Gioskar Amaya.

The name of the second player eluded him.  "I also really like the catcher", he said as he perused his notes. "Number 19." 

Number 19, of course, is Willson Contreras.

I told him I was also a fan.  I listed reasons such as his athleticism, strong arm, his improved plate discipline, and his newly developed ability to hit for power.  He seemed to agree, nodding silently, but he also liked him for a much more simple reason.

"He can hit a good  fastball," he said, looking at me as if I just missed the most obvious thing of all.

Then, as if on cue, Contreras ripped a 94 mph pitch foul down the 3rd base line -- just foul.  Earlier Contreras pulled a line drive single off Kurt Heyer, who was 92-94 all day and peaked at 96.

Add that to the list.

There is still long way to go and a lot learn for Contreras, so I still don't know if he is  going to be a big league catcher, but the list of reasons why he can seems to be growing.

Filed under: prospects

Tags: Willson Contreras

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  • I love the description of that Scouts facial expression John....

  • In reply to HoosierDaddy:

    Ha! Sometimes you miss the obvious!

  • That's about the best post I've seen here. It is thorough and has facts behind it. Most of these guys are just grasping at flying insects of insight and dim analysis. I'm not optimistic about much that's going on with this franchise, but
    I appreciate studied analysis.

  • In reply to BLOOMIE1937:

    Thank you.

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    What did he like about Gioskar?

  • In reply to Mike Moody:

    Just his solid around skills. -- and his ability to hit a good fastball:). Will talk more in recap tonight.

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    Baez isn't in the lineup today. Wonder if that's a benching.

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    In reply to Mike Moody:

    I am concerned now about his lack of plate discipline. He's not progressing there. If he can't learn to lay off pitches out of the zone, he's going to struggle as he moves up, and pitchers have sharper command

    His stock is dropping, IMO, and you have to be concerned about his hit tool

  • hahaha "He can hit a good fastball, John" Duuhhh

  • In reply to fsufrenzy911:

    Ha That's important, isn't it? :)

  • Garza's command leaving a little to be desired tonight. But, he did get a 9-10 pitch at-bat against Clayton Richard...

  • In reply to Eldrad:

    He also made a great defensive play and accurate throw the last start. He's working on his all around game!

  • And, having written that, Garza then comes out and finds his groove in the 3rd. 1st inning threw 91; 2nd inning hit 93 on fastball. No 3rd inning data from announcers.

  • In reply to Eldrad:

    Thanks Eldrad

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    It's reassuring to hear that Garza hit 95 on the gun for the last strike of the 5th. I also Ike that he's mixing in secondary pitches throughout the game.

  • In reply to Eldrad:

    Agreed. He's sustaining that velocity and this now in his 4th rehab start? Definitely encouraging.

  • With the possibility of Garza being pulled at 75 pitches tonight, where will his next start be? While I can see an argument for 1 more non-pressure start in the minors, he can just as well throw 85-90 in a ChiCubs uniform with a recently demoted starter taking a couple of innings to get it to the 8th-9th inning guys in the 'pen.
    At this point, I guess he might as well head for Wrigley. No reason not to...

  • In reply to Eldrad:

    I think that's exactly what will happen. They'll have Villanueva ready to come in when Garza makes his next start.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    So, I guess now the question becomes, which pitcher is headed to DFA/AAA status? Honestly, except for the past week, I haven't bothered to tune in to see much Cubs action, so I don't really know (beyond Camp) who is really stinking it up at a sustained level this spring. Candidates?

  • In reply to Eldrad:

    Could be Camp. But Cubs also have 6 outfielders, 4 of whom bat lefty -- so hard to play them all. Sweeney the only one with options.

  • Another great post. Thank you John. I'm curious why Chadd Krist is never mentioned. I feel like every time I check the stats, he puts up another big night with the bat. Tonight he was the DH, but I'm wondering how good he is behind the plate.

  • In reply to jkcutback:

    Thanks. Krist's strength is his defense and he has a decent bat, but project more as a backup. Much more polished right now that Contreras behind the plate, just not as high a ceiling.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    Krist is 23 I believe and just now got bumped up to Daytona. Could be a late bloomer if we are lucky (had a big night tonight with 5 RBI) but we shall see.

  • In reply to IrwinFletcher:

    I think of him more as a backup, but he continues to hit better than people thought he would. I agree, let's see where he's at as the year goes on.

  • I was at the game and Garza looked very good! Hit 96 and worked 93-95 mainly. Breaking ball was good and sat around 74 he also threw another pitch (change up?) at around 85.

    We were treated to a great pitchers duel as Clayton Richard pitched well for Tucson too; he's got a nice pickoff move and totally fooled Watkins! Raley piggybacked and was decent to finish out the final 3 innings. Did get a little dicey in the 9th though. Jackson looked awful on a couple of his strikeouts. Vitters made a really nice diving stab and threw to 1st for the out. There was a lot of scouts there but I couldn’t tell for which teams.

  • In reply to Puma0821:

    Thanks Puma! 85 could also be his slider. It would depend on how it broke. Pitch in the 70s is his curve.

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