As I type this today, it seems more and more likely that the Chicago Cubs are betting on their current roster heading into 2019, which means the likelihood of a Bryce Harper or Manny Machado are slim.
After multiple chances for them to say otherwise at the Chicago Cubs Convention, a Willson Contreras’ return to 2017 form could be exactly what the doctor ordered if the Cubs plan to change internally, like Theo Epstein has stated.
It’s hard to believe, but Contreras was an NL All-star in 2018, but his second half was hard to watch. From leading the NL in innings caught (1,109 2/3) to watching his numbers dip as the months went on, Cubs fans wondered if Contreras would ever get out of his slump.
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One consistent thing we saw from Contreras was his lack of power. After 21 home runs in 2017, he finished with just 10 in 2018. With the lack of power came more ground balls. In the final two months of the season, Contreras’ ground ball rate went from 47.3 to 62.2 percent.
With frustration mounting, the lack of a reliable backup catcher didn’t help. No offense to Victor Caratini, but he didn’t take much pressure off Contreras to perform.
Contreras accounted for 544 plate appearances compared to 428 plate appearances in 2017. Despite him missing about a month of the season in 2017, the lack of rest clearly showed as the season progressed for the backstop.
Contreras had a slash line of .200/.291/.294 after July 20. Plain and simple, it was terrible.
At only 26, there is plenty of optimism to believe he can get back to playing at an All-Star level. MLB.com Cubs writer Jordan Bastian cited some reasons to why his production dropped in his latest piece.
At the Cubs Convention, Contreras stated that the past is the past, but he mentioned how the experience from 2018 would help him in the future.
Joe Maddon was asked about his rough second half, and he mentioned Contreras trying too hard. Perhaps, a flaw might be how he asks too much from himself to succeed?
"“Like Joe said, sometimes I put too much on myself,” he said. “But that’s who I am. And if I need to change that to get better, I will. … I think every player should learn from frustration and bad things. That’s what makes you become a better player the next season.”"
Cubs fans hope Contreras learns from the past and can put himself back in the top-tier of catchers in baseball in 2019. In 2017, Contreras was batting fourth consistently in the Cubs lineup, and if he can get back to that form, the potential Kris Bryant–Anthony Rizzo–Javier Baez-Contreras combo potentially could be scary.
Entering Spring training next month, Contreras will link up with former coaches from his minor league days to work on offense and defense. Aside from his bat, a big key for him in 2019 is his pitch framing. His -17.8 framing runs, according to Baseball Prospectus, was ranked last in 2018.
The Cubs hope their all-star catcher performs like an all-star or else it will be pointed back to their quiet offseason. The Cubs have yet to sign a backup catcher, which could mean they’re hoping Caratini can take a step in his development.
A lot of questions for a team that potentially could win 100 games if you ask me. I guess we will see.