Willson Contreras has been the hottest hitter on the Cubs for a while now, and even surpassed Kris Bryant on the home run leaderboards over the weekend.
And although he snapped a four-game hit streak with an 0-5 performance on Monday night, he bounced back with a double against the Giants yesterday.
And after a blisteringly hot second half of the season, the Cubs young catcher (who happens to be playing first base today) is now slashing .277/.343/.524. He’s also cemented himself as one of the best catchers – on both sides of the ball – in all of baseball, and has become a clear fan-favorite in Chicago.
And just three years ago, any other team could have had him for free.
In an excellent write-up at ESPN, Jesse Rogers recaps Willson Contreras’ rise to stardom with the Chicago Cubs, using the fact that the team left him unprotected in the Rule 5 Draft back in December of 2014 as something of a keystone event. Indeed, all that any GM had to do for a guy who will likely receive some down-ballot MVP votes this season was pay the Cubs a paltry $50,000. (Well, and carry him on the 25-man roster at a time when he was not viewed as a top prospect and had yet to play at AA. But, you know, details.)
Fortunately, they didn’t.
Of course, Contreras went on to have a huge 2015 season, which put his name on the prospect map and not one year later, he was catching games for the 103-win, soon-to-be World Series Champion Chicago Cubs. So what changed over that winter?
“In my opinion, what clicked was playing in the Venezuelan winter league in 2014 when he was around veteran guys down there,” said Jason McLeod, the club’s vice president of amateur scouting and player development. “When he came to spring training [in 2015] he talked about that experience and how good that was for him. We saw a different guy.”
Check out Rogers’ piece for much more, including really positive comments from veterans like Jon Lester, Ben Zobrist, manager Joe Maddon, and others.
But the praise doesn’t start and end in Chicago. The only other catcher better than Contreras this season, the Giants’ Buster Posey, is impressed by what the Cubs catcher has done. In fact, he goes as far as to compare him to Miguel Cabrera, one of the greatest hitters ever, in terms of setup and demeanor.
But it’s not just his play at the plate that’s impressing Posey. Instead, the former Rookie of the Year and MVP is seeing a lot of good things behind it, as well:
“He has a rocket for an arm. The power is off the charts. Lot of talent and lot of tools. There’s about the same amount of age difference between me and Yadi as there is between me and Willson. He’s going to be a good one.”
From Yadi to Posey to Contreras, the best catchers of the past, present, and future – may all be playing at the same time.