Willson Contreras: Road to Top Prospect

Willson Contreras: Road to Top Prospect
Willson Contreras of the Tennessee Smokies. Photo Credit: Roger C. Hoover/Knox News

With the Winter Meetings in the rear view mirror and the anticipation of where big name free agents will sign, I wanted to take a moment to turn your attention to Cubs catching prospect Willson Contreras. The 23-year-old Venezuelan was recently named to the Arizona Fall League Top Prospect Team. Through 14 games with the Mesa Solar Sox, he posted a .387 OBP while slugging .547. He has continued to develop his power and patience with the bat while flashing his athleticism behind the plate. It is safe to assume that he will start next season in Iowa and we might even see him make his major league debut as a September call up. With that being said, lets look at the progression Contreras has made to reach top prospect status.

Before his outbreak in 2015, Contreras' numbers at the plate were nothing to really speak of. Between two seasons in the Dominican Summer League, he slashed an underwhelming .259/.355/.344. His defense was struggling as well as he committed 30 errors in only 38 games started at third base. It was easy to forget that he was only 17-years-old and most of his counter parts were playing high school baseball. Moving on to his first season in Boise, his defensive numbers at third base showed no improvement and his offensive numbers remained relatively the same. It wasn't until a position change to catcher in 2012 did we start to see his true potential.

In his second season at Boise at age 20, he started 37 games behind the plate. He posted a .976 fielding percentage while throwing out 23 of 49 base stealers, which was good for 47%. With what seemed like new found confidence at a new position, his offensive numbers followed. There was a jump in his OBP and SLG numbers and you could see some gap power in his bat. Combining his 144 starts behind the plate between Kane County and Daytona, Contreras posted a .333 wOBA and 103 wRC+ according to FanGraphs. His BB:K ratio was still a cause of concern as it was 54:132, but his offensive improvement across the board was promising.

In 2015, playing in the Southern League for the Double-A Tennessee Smokies, Contreras put up elite offensive stats in 126 games. He produced a slash line of .333/.413/.478. He belted a career high 8 homers to go along with 75 RBI's. Most impressive was his 156 wRC+ and an improved BB:K ratio of 57:62. The new found power numbers can be attributed to the patience he found at the plate. Those numbers also carried over into the fall as he has stood out in the Arizona Fall League. He was named to the East Division All-Star Team and the before mentioned Top Prospect Team. To note, the prospect team is chosen by the coaches based on numbers and the players Major League projectability. So scouts and coaches alike can see him making an impact as a Major League catcher.

Now, it's reasonable to expect that his Double-A numbers are not sustainable. It is also reasonable to conclude that his power and patience have developed through his years in the minors and he could sustain somewhere in the .270/.380/.400 range. Offensive numbers akin to a catcher like Yadier Molina during his prime hitting seasons. If he can produce numbers like it is easy to see Contreras as a part of the already young and talented Cubs major league roster.

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