What To Expect: Cubs Catcher Willson Contreras

The Cubs, who have allowed the second-most stolen bases in the majors (51) and have the second-worst percentage of retired basestealers (17.7 percent), will call up on Triple-A Iowa catcher Willson Conteras, their No. 2 prospect and No. 67 overall in the game, according to multiple reports. He will debut on Friday.

Contreras will be the No. 3 catcher behind David Ross, who is retiring at the end of 2016, and Miguel Montero, who has struggled in 2016 but has a year remaining on his contract. Tim Federowicz will reportedly be designated for assignment to make room for Contreras.


Contreras signed out of Venezuela in 2009 and began his career as a third baseman before moving behind the plate in 2012, a move he has embraced. As a former infielder, Contreras has athleticism, but he also has the strongest arm of any catcher in the Cubs system as well as good footwork.

An evaluator who has seen Contreras says his receiving and blocking are works in progress, but that he stands to benefit greatly from working with Ross, which is likely part of Chicago’s motivation for making the move now. Contreras moves well side to side and has strong hands and a good work ethic. Additionally, he has solid makeup, so he should fit well in a major league clubhouse, especially one with a strong leader such as manager Joe Maddon.

Contreras broke out last season at Double-A Tennessee, hitting .333 to win the Southern League batting title, and he hasn’t shown any slippage in the Pacific Coast League, where he ranks among the top 10 in batting (.350), slugging (.591) and on-base percentage (.439). His improvement at the plate can be traced to better focus. He doesn’t give away at-bats by chasing pitches, and his maturity has led to more power.


While Contreras will nominally be the No. 3 catcher, the struggles of Montero open up opportunities for plenty of playing time, provided he shows himself to be a capable receiver at the major league level. He’ll need to show he can handle premium velocity and receive the ball quietly, while his blocking will be tested on breaking pitches from veterans such as Jake Arrieta and John Lackey.

Most organizations want their backstops to be catchers first and hitters second. Contreras is a bat-first catcher, but if he can show he can handle a major league staff, he could get plenty of at-bats as the Cubs steam toward a division title.

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