Willson Contreras, C
Age: 22 (5/13/1992)
How acquired—Signed as a free agent on Dec. 7, 2008, out of Venezuela. Scouted by Hector Ortega and Julio Figueroa.
Daytona Cubs, Florida State League, High A (80 G, .242/.320/.359, 5 HR, 37 RBI)
After receiving a $850,000 bonus, Contreras began his pro career in the Dominican Summer League, playing third base in 2009 and hit .205/.305/.313 in 29 games. He only played in 17 games in the DSL in 2010 and came stateside in 2011, appearing in 60 games for Boise at third, first and some outfield with a slash line of .261/.305.347. Contreras made the switch behind the plate in 2012 and returned to Boise, catching 39 games. He also improved his offensive numbers in the Northwest League, hitting .273/.316/.357 with 46 RBI. With limited experience behind the plate, Contreras was given the starting catching job at Kane County and it was a learning experience for the young Venezuelan. He was charged with 18 errors and allowed 19 passed balls in 72 games. Contreras did hold his own against base stealers, throwing out 30 percent, the league average. Playing in a full season for the first time in five years, Contreras had career-highs in almost every offensive category and showed some power with 11 homers as he hit .248/.320/.423 with 46 RBI and 8 SB. Despite the drop in batting average, Contreras showed a good approach at the plate, improving his walk and strikeout rates.
The Venezuelan played 80 games in Daytona, 73 starts behind the plate as the D-Cubs primary catcher. While his offensive numbers didn’t jump off the page, I thought Contreras took a big step forward behind the plate, especially with his maturity as a player. During the season, Contreras batted .242/.320/.359 with 5 HR and 37 RBI and had his best month in May, when he hit .370 and slugged .500. After committing 18 errors and allowing 19 passed balls in the MWL, Contreras only had one error but was still charged with 11 PB. He threw out 21 of 72 base runners, and led all Cubs minor leaguers with 613 innings behind the dish. He stepped up big in the playoffs for Daytona, going 10-for-22 with six runs and five RBI, including a game-winning homer in Game 3. He kept that streak going in the Venezuelan Winter League for Aragua, appearing in 26 games. He slugged five homers, knocked in 17 runs, and hit .273/.324/.545.
Contreras should start the year in AA Tennessee as he inches closer to the majors. He may be the most athletic catcher in the system, despite a thick build that suits a backstop. Decent speed, quick hands, and the ability to take the ball deep are all tools that Contreras takes to the plate. Already Rule 5 eligible, its a big year for Contreras as he starts his fourth year behind the plate. After seeing Contreras play in Kane County, I didn’t have much faith in his ability to move forward but after his season in Daytona and in the VWL, I’ve changed my mind. He’s still a long shot to make a big league roster, but at 22-years-old and still developing, could be a late bloomer that helps a big league ball club.