Today’s a special day.
It’s the start of a brand new homestand for the Chicago Cubs. It’s Jake Arrieta Day! And, of course, it’s Willson Contreras’ first day in the Major Leagues! Woo!
Contreras, 24, had been crushing Triple-A pitching all season long, and, after deciding to give other PCL pitchers a break, the Cubs elected to call him up. On the season (AAA Iowa), Contreras was hitting .353/.442/.593, prior to his call-up, with a walk rate 11.7% near his strikeout rate (13.3%).
The plan for Contreras appears to be focused around working alongside veterans David Ross and Miguel Montero in a part-time capacity, to learn as much as he can. If, however, his receiving and game calling skills behind the plate improve enough (or are already good enough), he may slowly begin to see a heavier workload. But that’s just my speculation. So, instead of speculating, lets check in on some actual reports – bullet-style – regarding Contreras’ call-up …
- First up, is Sahadev Sharma at the Athletic. Sharma writes that although Contreras’s bat will be a welcomed addition to the ever expanding battery, his pitch framing skills may be what slow his overall takeover. While Montero and Ross are two of the best pitch framers in baseball (according to Baseball Prospectus), Contreras actually ranked among the worst in the Pacific Coast League in that regard. But that’s not all. The biggest remaining piece of the puzzle for Contreras will be learning how to handle a Major League staff. “Calling a game, handling advanced scouting reports of the opponents, knowing how to talk to pitchers in game and which buttons to push,” Sharma writes at The Athletic, “are all things that can only be learned with experience at the highest level.” And so, that may be the plan for Contreras. Come up to the majors, learn from two of the smartest catchers in the game, go back to Iowa, implement those changes and then come up one final time for good.
- And Cubs Vice President of Scouting and Player Development Jason McLeod echoes as much, with a bit more detail on why that may be important for Contreras. “In my opinion what clicked was playing in the Venezuelan winter league in 2014 when he [Contreras] was around veteran guys down there,” McLeod said, per ESPN. “When he came to spring camp last year he talked about that experience and how good that was for him. We saw a different guy last year and it carried over to his season.” The Cubs front office may see a young guy who is capable, and more importantly, willing to learn. If he’s learned all he can at the minor league level, then, the next and final step may be learning from some Major League athletes and coaches.
- Of course, it doesn’t hurt that he’s very good on offense and defense. In addition to learning from the players, Contreras may be used as late game defensive replacement, according to Jesse Rogers at ESPN. “We’ve been trying [to improve],” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said Wednesday regarding throwing out runners. “It is what it is.” Contreras’ arm behind the plate is reportedly quite good, and like Albert Almora before him, he may see time behind the plate late in games, in that capacity.
- At CSN Chicago, Patrick Mooney writes about how the future is now for the Chicago Cubs, as Willson Contreras and Albert Almora are just two of the latest young prospects to “roll off the assembly line.” Indeed, Contreras will be called up to learn, but also because he’ll be able to sneak his way into the Majors without the spotlight or pressure of being the guy handling a veteran (and let’s be honest, intense) pitching staff including the reigning NL Cy Young award winner Jake Arrieta, and a fierce competitor like John Lackey. Mooney discusses how this move is, in equal parts, about Contreras’ development, helping the running game, helping out on offense and getting a head start on 2017, when David Ross retires.
- At Baseball America, Vince Lara-Cinisomo writes about what to expect from Willson Contreras upon his arrival to the Major Leagues. Utilizing a scouting report of his own, Lara-Cinisomo expects big things from Contreras, who could play himself into more and more time as the season goes on. The number one thing he’ll need to work on is handling velocity, nastier breaking stuff, and receiving pitches softly.
- In the same manner, Jim Callis at MLB.com writes about what Cubs fans can expect from Contreras, and lands on many of the same beats. Although his offense overshadows his defense, Callis believes Contreras won’t be a liability in any way. He’ll need to work on his game calling and receiving, but that’s mostly what he’s there for. The Cubs are better with Contreras in the fold.
- And to close, how about some Twitter love between the probable 2017 catching tandem. These guys look good together.
— Miguel Montero (@miggymont26) June 16, 2016