Mark J. Rebilas / USA TODAY Sports

Cubs will promote Willson Contreras

NSR’s Mike Nester looks at Willson Contreras’ growth from an immature catcher in low A to the top catching prospect in baseball.

Willson Contreras is headed to the big leagues. According to multiple reports, the Cubs will call-up the 24-year-old catcher from Iowa on Friday and C Tim Federowicz will be designated for assignment. Contreras, signed as a third baseman and moved behind the plate in 2013, wasn’t always regarded as a top prospect.

I had a front row seat. Kane County’s Willson Contreras was at the plate and with runners on, and popped out. As he left the box and headed to first, he flung his bat at the cement wall behind home plate and it shattered.

It was this immaturity, along with a suspension from the Midwest League for bumping an umpire, that dropped the Venezuelan off the prospect radar in 2013. Throw in 19 passed balls and 18 errors, and Contreras (.248/.320/.423) was no longer included on Cubbie lists.

His defense showed improvement at High A Dayton in 2014, only one error and 11 passed balls, but still wasn’t on anyone’s radar posting a .242/.320/.359 slash with five homers and 37 RBI in 80 games. He wasn't even protected that winter in the Rule 5 draft.

That off-season Contreras played for Aragua in the Venezuelan Winter League and he started hitting and hasn’t stopped. In 16 games for the Tigers, Contreras slashed .273/.324/.545 with five homers and 17 RBI. 

He kept rolling at AA Tennessee, winning the batting title (.333), knocking in 75 runs, while lowering his K rate and improving his BB/9. Not only did he return to the prospect rankings but headed into the 2016 season as one of the top catchers in the minors. And the Cubs added him to the 40-man roster.

This season, he’s proved the pundits right. In 54 games with Iowa he’s playing the best ball of his life, hitting .350/.439/.591 with nine homers and 43 RBI. 

Contreras is not a finished product behind the plate but his plus arm makes up for some of his shortcomings—mainly lack of innings and experience. He’s also a perfect example how the Cubs minor league development team has transformed an immature backstop into one of the top catching prospects in baseball.

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