Chicago Cubs: Willson Contreras fears no one – and is ready to rise
By Jake Misener
This week, Chicago Cubs catcher Willson Contreras has made some comments that left Cubs fans enamored – and St. Louis Cardinals fans seeing red.
Last weekend’s annual Cubs Convention came and went with relatively little fanfare. Without a major acquisition or another World Series title to celebrate, it was a pretty tame event. But, apparently, someone forgot to tell Willson Contreras.
"“I know that I have a lot of talent,” he said. “I thank God every day for giving me this kind of talent that I have. In my mind, I want to be the best catcher in the game for a long time … I used to watch a lot of those guys (Yadier Molina, Buster Posey), but now I’m watching myself because I know that I’m going to be better than them. That’s my plan.”"
For year, Posey and Molina have been the gold standard for catchers. But Molina turns 36 this summer and is on the back nine as far as his career goes. Posey, meanwhile, remains near the top of his game. Last season, he led all National League catchers with a 4.0 WAR – trailing only Gary Sanchez of the Yankees among all big-league backstops.
As for Contreras, he clocked in at a 3.9 WAR. Which is respectable enough before you consider his significantly fewer games played. Sanchez appeared in 122 games picking up 525 plate appearances. Posey, meanwhile, played in 140 contests with 568 plate appearances.
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Due to a late-season injury, Contreras played in 117 games. Before being sidelined, he was making a case to draw MVP consideration in the National League. He had nearly 100 fewer PAs – but was right there with the creme de la creme of catchers in the game.
Now, make no mistake. Contreras has a lot of growing left to do as a player. He’s incredibly emotional on the field. Which, at times, makes him one of the game’s most exciting young talents to behold. Other times, it proves costly. He led all Major League catchers with 17 errors – and his fiery demeanor isn’t always conducive to controlling a pitching staff.
Rubbing people the wrong way
Everyone talks about Anthony Rizzo, Kris Bryant and Kyle Schwarber. And with good reason. But Contreras could be a guy, offensively, who changes the entire dynamic of a lineup. He can also light a fire under opponents, as well.
Molina, never one to stand pat when challenged, offered up a response, which loosely translates to “respect the ranks.” That’s understandable. Contreras has one full season under his belt. Molina and Posey have combined for an MVP award, nine Gold Gloves, 13 All-Star appearances, five Silver Sluggers and five World Series titles.
But Contreras, ever the gentleman, offered up clarification for his comments after seemingly rubbing some of the game’s elders the wrong way.
A big campaign for Contreras and the Cubs
Last year was a mixed bag for the Chicago Cubs. Granted, they won 92 games and a second-straight division crown. The club advanced to the NLCS for the third consecutive year. Anthony Rizzo and Kris Bryant each turned in All-Star caliber campaigns and there was a lot to love.
But there was disappointment, too.
Chicago never seemed to hit their stride. They hung right around .500 for the overwhelming majority of the season. Finally, in the season’s final weeks, they punched their postseason ticket. As for Contreras, he put together one of the most impressive months ever by a Cubs catcher. But then injuries derailed his season down the stretch.
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Consistency – all-around consistency – will be critical for the Cubs in 2018. With an invigorated Willson Contreras leading the charge, the North Siders could be a lethal threat come October.