The newly-formed working relationship between catcher Willson Contreras and starting pitcher Jon Lester is among the most noteworthy storylines of the spring. With David Ross retiring, Lester will be working regularly with a new catcher for the first time in a few years, and Contreras is going to be that catcher.
Contreras, as I’m sure you know, is not only coming off his rookie season (so there’s some general inexperience), but he’s also a converted third baseman, who also played over 180.0 innings in left field as recently as last year.
Lester, on the other hand, is a veteran pitcher, yes, but one who’s had a personal catcher for the past four (or so) seasons in David Ross, as well as some, you know, issue with throws to first base, which necessitates a particularly helpful backstop.
Needless to say, for better or for worse, the relationship between these two is going to matter a lot, especially in the early going. (After all, Lester is ticketed for Opening Day).
Fortunately, the reviews on Contreras have been strong and Lester appears to be happy. And while Contreras’ development is obviously quite important to the Cubs long-term, his ability to work with Lester in 2017 is particularly crucial. But again, so far so good.
In fact, Lester addressed his work with Contreras recently, including his first Spring Training start on Sunday, and you can read his comments at the Chicago Tribune, The Athletic, and CSN Chicago. In short, he doesn’t see any reason why pitching to Contreras should be a problem.
“Willy does a great job,” Lester said. “I think it was hard on him coming in last year and not really catching a lot of guys and being a part of getting to know us and just getting thrown into the situation.”
Lester added that he has had to shake his pitch selections off “here and there,” but for the most part, that’s just a learning each other thing. In other words, any new battery combination will have some sort of transitionary period, and this is no different than that.
Lester went on to praise Contreras’ desire to learn and improve. Frankly, he can do a lot worse than Lester as a guide.
Obviously, one of the biggest challenges Contreras will have to overcome is living up to the game calling and pitch framing of David Ross. In reality, he won’t be as good as the fifteen-year veteran … well, because, not many were/are. However, Contreras’s receiving/framing has improved in his short time with the club, and game calling is something that strengthens naturally over time (and can improve more quickly with the right pitcher (like Lester)).
On the other hand, Contreras should be able to live up to David Ross’ prolific arm and impressive ability to throw runners out last season (Ross’ 8 DRS ranked fourth overall, despite catching half as many innings (or more) than the three guys ahead of him).
And for what it’s worth, Lester is already a believer, telling CSN that he forgot how good of an arm Contreras has, and joked that he has to remember to get out of the way when he’s firing it down to second base.
Unsurprisingly, Contreras also has confidence in himself. If you watched him play at all last season, you’ll have seen that from a mile away.