willson contreras smokies

This morning, I took a disappointed look into why the Chicago Cubs have pulled out of Venezuela and why that led to the shut down of the Venezuelan Summer League. In short, after the Cubs left, only three teams remained involved in the country. And with that, there was no point in continuing the league. While the future remains uncertain, there’s no doubt that baseball could miss out on some interesting Venezuelan players, in the short term, that might have otherwise made it to MLB.

Heck, two extremely important current members of the Cubs – Hector Rondon and Miguel Montero – are Venezuelan-born players. And the expanded list includes names like Carlos Zambrano, Luis Valbuena, Henry Blanco and recently-signed Jean Machi. The proverbial “tap” might be shut off for a while, but the Cubs already have other Venezuelan-born players that could join those ranks soon.

In particular, it’s one guy that we’ve been extremely excited about lately: Willson Contreras.



Contreras, 23, was signed out of Venezuela as a third baseman in 2009, but has since converted to a catcher. In his first go-around at AA Tennessee last season, Contreras impressed on offense, slashing .333/.413/.478 with a walk out rate (10.9%) that nearly matched his strike out rate (11.9%), and winning the Southern League batting title and Cubs player of the year honors in the process. And by most reports, he was solid (and improving) behind the plate, with a good chance to stick as a catcher in MLB long term.

At midseason, Luke ranked Contreras atop his Bleacher Nation Top 40 Prospect list. Billy McKinney and Gleyber Torres are the most usual challengers to that top spot, but the strength of Contreras’ peripherals (and his positional value) separated him from the rest at that time.

So far in the current rankings season, Contreras has been a member of the Cubs’ top ten for four other prospect lists this offseason, alone. His highest honor yet, though, didn’t come until yesterday, when MLB Pipeline released its Top 10 Catching Prospect list with Willson Contreras at the top.

Ahead of interesting names like Gary Sanchez (Yankees) and Jorge Alfaro (Phillies), Contreras leads the upper tier of catching prospects – a tier that is a good leg ahead of the rest, to Jonathan Mayo. Check out the article here, for a complete write-up on all 10 catchers, and for more on Contreras, in particular. All offense praise aside, my favorite part of Mayo’s review is that he believes Contreras will stick behind the plate, due to his arm strength and athleticism, even if he does have work to do with receiving.



Relatedly, at CSN Chicago, Patrick Mooney also addressed Contreras’ future in Chicago. Citing Miguel Montero’s expiring contract, David Ross’ expected retirement, and Kyle Schwarber’s positional uncertainty, Mooney thinks Contreras might actually be the catcher of the (near) future. For what it’s worth, the front office offered high praise for Contreras at the executive panel at the 2016 Cubs Convention, and it was clear that they see him as a front-line big league catcher soon.

In 2016, after Spring Training, Contreras will head to AAA Iowa, where he’ll be the primary catcher on the roster. Because he’s already on the 40-man roster, it’s possible we’ll see Contreras in Chicago at some point this season if there’s an injury at the big league level.



For more on the catching rankings, and praise for Contreras, you can watch Jonathan Mayo on MLB Tonight here:


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