Willson Contreras is now the lone catcher on the Chicago Cubs with experience. The time to learn on the fly is over.
After the Chicago Cubs kicked Miguel Montero to the curb following his teammate-bashing comments, Willson Contreras found himself in an unusual position. He’s now the only catcher on the roster with any MLB-experience behind the plate.
At just 25 years old, Contreras has been thrust into the full-time role. Of course, the team could pick up another veteran backstop (which is what they’re looking to do), but for now, Contreras is a lone wolf.
Thankfully, the young catcher has shown that he’s more than capable of stepping up. Not only is he above-average offensively, he’s one of the best defensive catchers in the game. He also has a contagious, competitive personality that should help him become the type of leader the catcher position requires.
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We could go into the typical stats of Contreras all day. We could rave about his offensive potential or his patent-pending snap throws. However, it’s his development as a young veteran that we’re most concerned with at the moment.
The young leader
The catcher’s position is often heralded as ‘The General’ of the field. Makes sense, since they see everything and direct what the pitcher throws. There’s a certain leadership quality that catchers often have, and Contreras has shown so far that he has what’s necessary.
Just follow the Venezuelan on Twitter, and you’ll see what I mean. Congratulating teammates, infectious positivity and charitable causes flood his timeline. The excitement and happy-go-lucky attitude off the field is nice, but on the field, he’s as competitive as anyone.
Contreras brings fist pumps, chest-pounding and furiosity everyday to the ballpark. Old-heads may not like it, but he’s not the type to restrain emotion on the field. His kind of enthusiasm is contagious and can perk up his less-than-energetic teammates when times are rough.
Learning from the veteran Cub players like David Ross and Jon Lester has undoubtedly helped Contreras. Ross, in particular, raved about the second-year player’s development and potential in an interview with Cubs Den’s John Arguello:
"“You know, Willson, I think, is going to have a pretty much seamless transition,” Ross said. “I had a ton of guys with experience. I think that’s what Willson’s coming into here… he’s going to learn a lot this year. There will be some challenges here and there, but I don’t think it’s going to be anything for an extended period of time.”"
Soaking up veteran advice works wonders for young players, and Contreras is no exception. Signed as an infielder, he was converted to catcher early in his development. Learning the ins and outs of how to call and prepare for games is a crucial part of catching that doesn’t show up on the stat sheet. Getting as much help as you can, especially when you haven’t been a catcher all your life, is incredibly important.
Gaining that experience is not only important for Contreras, but for the team moving forward. The Cubs have a few pitching prospects that will be ready in the next few seasons. Having a young veteran like Contreras will help them ease into the big leagues, at a time when good starting pitching will likely be more important than ever.
Even if the Cubs acquire a veteran catcher, it’s Contreras’ position now. The young catcher is well on his way to becoming the dependable, everyday backstop every team craves. Stat and leadership-wise, he’s got it all. What more could you want?