Ken Rosenthal was the first to break the news (other sources have since confirmed) that the Cubs have called up hot-hitting catcher Willson Contreras.
Sources: #Cubs promoting catcher Willson Contreras, will join team tomorrow. Plan is to go with 3 catchers. No word on accompanying move.
— Ken Rosenthal (@Ken_Rosenthal) June 16, 2016
I had just written earlier today that Contreras would be in Iowa until September, though I did leave myself an out in the event that one of the two main backstops got hurt. Of course, that was wrong too. I’ve speculated for the last few weeks that Miggy Montero was playing at less than full strength, so my first thought was that he was headed to the DL. However, Ron Coomer mentioned this morning on Mully and Hanley on 670 The Score that David Ross had suffered a concussion.
Turns out, I was dead wrong on all counts, as the corresponding move to Contreras being added to the 25-man roster was actually Tim Federowicz being designated for assignment. The Cubs say that the plan is to keep Contreras around as the third catcher to learn from the two veterans ahead of him. At first blush, it might seem a bit odd that the Cubs would want to pull him from an environment in which he can catch on an everyday basis, but let’s think about this.
Contreras clearly has nothing to gain from continuing to destroy AAA pitching, so his offensive talent is being wasted in that regard. And if the Cubs want him to improve his pitch-framing, blocking, game-calling, etc, there’s no better way to learn than at the heels of two guys who do those things very well. He’ll also be able to get in plenty of work with catching instructor Mike Borzello. When you look at it that way, the move makes a lot more sense.
Contreras is slashing .350/.439/.591 with 9 home runs and 43 RBI in 54 games at AAA Iowa, so even a significant adjustment to MLB pitching should net the Cubs more than the .219/.325/.362 they’ve gotten from their catchers so far this season. Montero has been particularly disappointing, playing pretty much right at replacement level in 34 games. This move says a lot about how the Cubs feel about that production moving forward.
The bat is a given, but what I’ll really be looking for is how Contreras handles the staff, particularly in tight situations. It’s also evident that teams are being aggressive on the basepaths, so I’m excited to see how Contreras handles that. We got to see what he can do behind the plate this spring and his athleticism is going to be quite a change from what we’re used to back there.
Still, I can’t hide my surprise that Contreras is coming up at this point in the season, particularly with both Montero and Ross still healthy and expected to contribute. It’s gonna be fun to see how Maddon balances the playing time all the way around moving forward and to see how the new guy makes his mark.