Chicago Cubs: Willson Contreras’ early performance showing 2017 was no fluke

(Photo by Mark Brown/Getty Images)
(Photo by Mark Brown/Getty Images) /
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A breakout 2017 season put Wilson Contreras in baseball conversations across the world. Now, the Chicago Cubs catcher hopes to solidify himself in the game.

Before falling victim to a late season injury, Chicago Cubs catcher Willson Contreras appeared to be on the fringe of MVP conversation in the National League. Instead, he had to settle for a second-straight NLCS appearance and several personal career-highs.

But settling and Willson Contreras are two words that simply don’t go together. The Venezuelan native plays like a man possessed every time he takes the field. Emotions ruled him the last two years, making him one of the most appealing talents on the Cubs’ roster.

After clubbing 21 homers and driving in 74 runs, Contreras finds himself as the leader behind the dish in 2017. No longer is there a veteran hanging around like David Ross or Alex Avila. This pitching staff belongs to him. The other catcher on the roster? Victor Caratini, who will undoubtedly lean on Contreras throughout the season as he learns the ropes.

Consistency behind the dish

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Known not only for his bat, but cannon of an arm, the Chicago backstop is 3-for-4 on catching would-be base stealers this season. The big obstacle? Avoiding throwing errors that plagued Contreras last year. For every two great plays, he’d fire a ball into the outfielder, struggling with knowing when it’s better to just eat a ball.

Granted, we’re mere weeks into the 2018 season, so the fact that he remains errorless isn’t a huge deal – at least not yet. While his emotions make him who he is, controlling those ups and downs will be a huge part of his continued development and success moving forward.

Locked in at the plate

So far at the dish, he’s looked more locked in than ever. This coming on the heels of a white-hot spring where we had to break out the tape measure on a regular basis for Contreras’ moon shots.

Overshadowed by Javier Baez‘s two-homer effort Tuesday, the Chicago catcher added three more hits – raising his average to .333 (13-for-39) and OPS to .896 on the year. Although he’s yet to homer, he leads all Cubs hitters with four doubles

With Anthony Rizzo sidelined and several key players struggling to find their groove early, Contreras becomes more important than ever. Not just in terms of his work behind the plate, either. He is quickly becoming one of the more potent – and consistent – threats in Joe Maddon‘s arsenal.

A key offensive leader

Without him in the lineup, the weight falls on the shoulders of Kris Bryant – and Bryant alone. He’s performed well this year, hitting north of .300 with an OPS near 1.100. But he can’t carry the Cubs to victory by himself. The supporting cast is more important than ever – as Chicago learned in their home opener loss.

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It’s early. A lot happens over the course of 162 games. But based on what we saw last season and the early returns in 2018, Willson Contreras is ready to be what we all hoped he could be. A perennial All-Star, one of the best catchers in the game and, perhaps, a future MVP.