In the top of the 8th inning on Monday, the Iowa Cubs were losing to the Nashville Sounds by a wide margin (5-0), when Willson Contreras stepped up to the plate and cracked his first home run of the season.
The home run wasn’t a needle mover in the game, in fact it was the Cubs only run all night, but it underscored a continued hot start to the 2016 season for a bright young Cubs prospect.
Contreras, the Cubs’ top catching prospect (and top prospect overall to many), has been in the news a fair amount over the past week because of Miguel Montero’s recent trip to the disabled list with a sore back. Although it wasn’t Contreras who was called up from AAA to replace Montero, it was his teammate Tim Federowicz.
But many are expecting very big things from Contreras as soon as the second half of this season, and he is looking more and more like the Cubs catcher of the (near) future every single day – indeed, Theo Epstein called Contreras a special player just recently.
And, like I said, he continued that hot start last night with a no doubter to deep left center field:
With that home run, Contreras increased his slash line to an impressive .359/.432/.453 (.405 wOBA), while maintaining an identical strikeout rate and walk rate (10.8%). Although his overall slash line and performance at and behind the plate has been stellar so far this season, the power hadn’t really shown up before last night (.094 ISO). Obviously, he’s been hitting well enough even without it, but a little power surge would be a welcomed addition to his game and would go a long way towards rounding out the big picture.
It remains difficult to envision a scenario that involved Contreras coming up this season and taking over the catching duties full-time at the Major League level, without a serious absence from Miguel Montero, but the future remains open. In all likelihood, Contreras will get some time behind the plate in the second half of this season, while helping out on the bench in September, before making a more meaningful contribution in 2017.
With David Ross’ retirement and Kyle Schwarber’s season-ending knee injury, Contreras may be as important to the Cubs’ immediate future as any prospect in the organization. Montero is still under control through 2017, of course, but he’ll be 34 in the middle of next season and inching closer to being ready for more of a supporting role (in which I suspect he’d excel at that time).
Despite the appearance of a lack of upper echelon, impact talent, the Cubs still have some very exciting prospects at the cusp of the major leagues and Willson Contreras is leading that charge.
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