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Players to watch in 2016: Willson Contreras

Written by , Posted in General

I get excited about prospects, especially catching prospects. There’s so much hope, so much reason for optimism, and yes, sometimes so much hype. Last week, I took a look at a pitching prospect who I think will prove useful in the late innings in our bullpen this year, and today I’d like to take a closer look at a prospect who spends a great deal of his time behind the plate and seems to be projecting to potentially have an impact on the Cubs 25 man roster as early as 2017, if not sometime later in the 2016 season.

The obvious problem for Willson Contreras is that, in 2016, he has in many ways three different catchers on the current 25 man roster standing in his way. Though Kyle Schwarber will likely spend the majority of his time defensively in left field, there’s still Miguel Montero and David Ross who will be getting most of the starts behind the plate next season. Ross will likely retire after 2016, but Montero is under contract through 2017, so it could be a slow clime for Contreras, but as we have seen with other up and coming prospects, if the bat is there, they will find a spot.

Contreras is an interesting case, because although he has the defensive flexibility that Joe Maddon seems to appreciate in his players so much, he has seen his appearances behind the plate increase as he has moved up through the ranks of the minor leagues. In 2011, his first professional season, he played at Boise and appeared defensively nearly everywhere except behind the plate. He was primarily a third baseman then, a spot that he has continued to spend time, though with rapidly declining regularity. In 2011, he spent 46 games at third, compared to just 8 for the Tennessee Smokies in 2015. His numbers as a catcher have kept going up, from 39 at Boise in 2012, 72 at Kane County in 2013, 73 at Daytona in 2014, and finally 75 at Tennessee this year. In the Arizona Fall League this year, he played 11 games and was the catcher for 10 of those.

In the 2015 season especially, Contreras used his bat to put himself on the radar of the big league club and get himself added to the 40 man roster for 2016. As far back as September, indications were already showing that the front office had plans for what to do with him this upcoming season. He will likely spend most, if not all, of spring training with the big league team before heading to Iowa to continue to work on his defense behind the plate.

If, and this is a very strong possibility, one (or both) of Montero or Ross gets hurt for a significant amount of time in 2016, we will see Contreras make his debut. I think he’s shown that he’s probably ready offensively, especially if you look at his numbers at Tennessee this past year. There, he jumped his OPS to .891, far surpassing his previous career high of .742 with Kane County in 2013. With the Smokies, he had a 156 wRC+ (just for fun, some guy named Mike Trout had a 156 wRC+ when he was in AA in 2011), and a K % that sits nice and low at 11.9% last season.

There’s plenty to be excited about when it comes to Contreras, as you can see:

But, even given the Cubs recent reluctance to include him in a trade, it should be noted that prior to 2015, Contreras has not had any other season in the minors that has been particularly attention getting. This is not to say that players cannot put things together and earn a spot on a top 100 prospects list where they had not been expected to appear before, but keep in mind that sometimes all of this just ends up being hype or too much hope pinned on a small sample size. But, given what he has shown so far, I think Contreras is very much worth keeping a close eye on in 2016.

  • Bryan

    That would be some interesting trivia. Who are the best players to never appear on a Top 100 prospects list. I think I heard that Paul Goldschmidt never appeared on any prospect lists (top 100 overall or top 10 team)

    • Ryan Theriot, Mike Fontamullet, Mike Olt with a mullet.

  • Doc Raker

    CAPS- I can’t find the mailbag section on the Cubs web site. Do they still have it? I want to ask Carrie if the Cubs can replace Len Kasper.

    • cubsinbox@gmail.com or @CarrieMuskat if you do Twitter

      • Doc Raker

        Dear Carrie
        Len Kasper bores me and a great deal of Cubs Nation, just check with Big Toe Joe over at The View From the Bleachers. Any chance the Cubs are going to replace Len with someone who enjoys the game of baseball and can broadcast the game in an exciting fashion?
        Doc Raker- you might remember me, you interviewed me at Randy Hundley’s Fantasy camp back in 2007. “Camper rejects Cubs offer after raking all week.” I thought it was to much travel, all those trips all summer long.

    • CBPtOSU

      Are you going to show her that tape that Bryant will get a hit for his HR?

      • Assuming she has a VCR, that is a pretty good idea.

      • Eddie Von White

        It’s reel to reel.

  • Seymour Butts

    What did I miss?
    I must confess I did not visit this site in the last 5 days. X-mas is a cherished time of year, meant for family activities and quiet reflection. So we spent it in Las Vegas.
    Did not run into Kris Bryant, but did see a very large number of butts (and breasts) on stage. I highly recommend seeing the production show Jubilee. At least 50 unclad showgirls simultaneously displaying their X-mas cheer.
    I understand CAPS has a kindred spirit. Jedi must be livid.

    • The Subway in the Bellagio is a must-have.

    • Doc Raker

      That’s 100 breasteses bouncing around all at once, that’s art! Although he might not be part of your life Christ is a big part of Christmas, not the letter X.

    • Dork

      Nice family vacation

  • Sherm

    I am still so broken up over the accusations against Tyler Teaparty that I can barely work today. Tanner Teapot was one of my favorite players, and for that Al Jazz-eared guy to say those things was off-putting, to say the least. How our heroes can fall. And I was hoping that Thurston Teesdale would catch on as Kyle Hendrick’s personal receiver.

    • The fact that David Ross got so many starts hints at Teagen Taygarden’s value to the Cubs. Nothing to see here.

  • cap’n realist

    I’m assuming Contreras is the 2nd guy into the cage, since the first guy has the worst swing I’ve ever seen in professional baseball. If Contreras is the 2nd guy, that’s a quality path and some great bat speed. Dear god, that first guy needs to head to Australia for pro ball…

    • I quit watching when the guy bounced one off the plate and muffed his attempt to kick the ball out of the cage.. Didn’t see a second batter.

      • cap’n realist

        It was apparently the same guy! He was working on something…maybe pulling the ball….but those first 5 swings he looked like a bad JV player.

  • Every time I think about Ross batting it makes me cringe. He needs to go. Wonderful man. Terrible player.

    • Sherm

      I read something hilarious earlier today – David Ross homered as a pitcher this year…but NOT as a catcher.

      • Maybe he’ll gun everyone down on the bases. That’s about all we can hope for.