Coming off a dreadful second half last season, Chicago Cubs catcher Willson Contreras is channeling his disappointment into a renewed focus in 2019.
Last season was undoubtedly a tale of two halves for Willson Contreras. His work both at the dish and behind it in the first half netted him the first All-Star selection of his career. But down the stretch, as the Chicago Cubs desperately looked for answers offensively, the young Venezuelan backstop went ice-cold.
Contreras’ .818 first-half OPS plummeted after the All-Star Break, all the way down to .585. August and September were two of the worst single-month performances in his career, as he limped to the finish line behind a .222 on-base percentage in the final 30 days. Following the Cubs’ disappointing Wild Card game loss, both Contreras and his teammates headed into the offseason looking for answers.
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"“Everything is easy when you’re going well, when you’re not thinking too much and hitting homers and doubles with guys in scoring position,” he told NBC Sports Chicago. “I was too comfortable last year, to be honest. It kills me — I was like way too comfortable. I talked to my family and my wife about this."
Of course, expectations were at their peak this time last year. Contreras, coming off a 21-homer, 74 RBI showing the year prior boldly stated he was ready to rank amongst the game’s best catchers. And, for a while last season, he did – combining his cannon of a right arm with a potent bat to lead Chicago to a 55-38 record in the first half.
But, then things fell apart – both for Contreras and the Cubs. That’s in the past for the fan favorite catcher, though, who learned his lesson in a year he admitted he got complacent in his work and preparation.
"“I used to get to the ballpark, like I did in 2017, and I’d usually get on the elliptical or bike or stretch or lift. To be honest, I didn’t lift at all [as 2018 went on]. I came out of my routine completely. I didn’t deserve to have a good year last year. That’s what I told myself. I’ve learned from it, I took it as inspiration and now I’m here.”"
Entering Cactus League play Thursday, Contreras boasts a staggering 1.213 OPS with three doubles, two home runs and nine RBI in only nine contests. Granted, results in spring training, especially in Arizona, are hardly indicative of what you can expect over the course of 162 games, but a confident Contreras is exactly what this team needs.
Why? Simple. Because when Contreras is playing with his head and his heart, he has the ability to put a team on his back through the rough stretches. He can singlehandedly shift the momentum in a ballgame – either by throwing out a would-be base stealer or ripping a clutch extra-base hit in a big moment.
"“This game taught me that you have to keep working hard like you did the last year and don’t get too comfortable because you’re gonna fail and fail and fail. We learn and we move on.”"
The Cubs are ready to move on. Willson Contreras has already moved on. Now, it’s about taking what you learned and turning it into success between the lines.