Chicago Cubs: How Willson Contreras almost wasn’t a Cubs’ superstar

CHICAGO, IL - JULY 23: Willson Contreras
CHICAGO, IL - JULY 23: Willson Contreras /

The Chicago Cubs’ Willson Contreras is becoming a name that every Cubs’ fan knows. The passionate kid with the cannon for an arm and sweet swing. Oh, and he almost wasn’t a Cub. How 29 other teams missed their chance.

When you look back at the Chicago Cubs and Willson Contreras, it not hard to see why they called him up in the middle of last season. David Ross and Miguel Montero were both reliable catchers, but each was getting up there in years. Contreras was raw, but with a rifle for an arm and a potent bat, he was worth the call-up. Contreras provided a spark that has continued since he being promoted to the Cubs. But what if he never got his chance in Chicago? That was a real possibility before the 2015 season.

Since the brain trust of Theo Epstein, Jed Hoyer and Jason McLeod took over the Cubs, only two players remain that they inherited. Javier Baez and Contreras. We had heard all about Baez. Fantastic in the field, could hit the ball a country mile–at least, when he made contact. Baez made his debut in 2014, but that didn’t go as most fans had hoped. He came up once again in 2015 showing less power but better plate discipline. Baez is still aggressive at the plate and on the field, but it’s something the Cubs have come to terms with.

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Contreras didn’t start catching until 2012. On a day that he was bored, he saw the catcher’s gear in the dugout and put it on. He caught the Cubs’ bullpen, and from there the move was official. Contreras was to be a catcher, but at that point not the “future catcher” of the Cubs. When it came a time in 2014 to protect the minor leaguer’s from the Rule 5 Draft, Contreras was left off the list.

No room for Willson

With such a young and talented team, they didn’t have the ability to protect everyone. Contreras was a solid player but hadn’t done anything yet to warrant being protected. So many things go into the Rule 5, it’s hard to predict. And just because you aren’t, it doesn’t mean you’ll be drafted. Contreras is an indication of that.

Most teams didn’t see enough in Contreras to warrant a spot on the 25-man roster. I’m sure several teams took a look and scouted him, but the risk versus reward wasn’t there. So then came the 2015 season at Tennessee, and 29 other teams were likely kicking themselves.

His breakout

Contreras won the Southern League batting title in ’15 with a .333 average in 126 games. The following year at Iowa he batted .353 with nine home runs and 43 RBI in 55 games, so the Cubs called him up. Unlike his current teammate Baez, Contreras decided he didn’t want to be sent down again. The catching situation was a bit less clouded than the infield and made the decision easier for the Cubs.

This season, Contreras is having a breakout year. But his current stretch since July 14 is MVP worthy type numbers. In that stretch, he has a slash of .338/.410/.716 with an OPS of 1.126. He also leads the NL with eight home runs and 27 RBI in that span. The Cubs are 13-6 over that time and have seized the NL Central lead.

Next: A fan's take on Baez

With each game that Conteras does something special–which is often–just remember that 29 other teams had their opportunity to get him and passed. The Cubs can’t always be perfect; sometimes you simply need to be lucky. 3-1, anybody? Sorry, Cleveland.