Baseball America started releasing its positional rankings Tuesday as part of the publication’s in-depth look at the game’s top prospects. Baseball America is not as high on the prospects in the Cubs’ system as MLB Pipeline, Baseball Prospectus and Keith Law and included three of the Cubs young players in its top 100.
Willson Contreras was ranked as the top catching prospect by Jim Callis and checked in at No. 2 on Baseball America’s list of the best young backstops in the game behind the Yankees’ Gary Sanchez.
Baseball America’s top 10 catching prospects: Gary Sanchez (Yankees), Willson Contreras (Cubs), Tom Murphy (Rockies), Tyler Stephenson (Reds), Andrew Knapp (Phillies), Jorge Alfaro (Phillies), Reese McGuire (Pirates), Chance Sisco (Orioles), Elias Diaz (Pirates) and Austin Barnes (Dodgers)
Willson Contreras earned the Southern League batting title after hitting .333/.413/.478 with 34 doubles, four triples and eight home runs for a .891 OPS. And the Cubs named him the organization’s Minor League Position Player of the Year.
Defensively, Contreras has an above-average arm that has gotten him in trouble in the past. Contreras has toned down behind the plate but can still be mistake prone. According to Baseball America, he’s inconsistent with his receiving and blocking skills and needs more development time.
Jason McLeod recently discussed Contreras during an interview on MLB Network Radio. McLeod went into detail about what the Cubs have seen from him defensively and what he needs to work on to potentially be a frontline catcher in the majors.
“With Willson I think the biggest thing with him is just understanding the mental side, the maturity that you need to carry behind the plate and that really … we saw that big step forward with him last year,” McLeod said. “He’s a kid who plays with so much passion, a lot of energy.”
“We kid a lot now. That first summer when he transferred behind the plate and made the position change, he was so out of control. It was like a young colt that just was running all over the place, a lot of back picks that were ending up down the right field corner. Just playing with so much energy, wanting it so badly.”
“For him it was more learning how to slow the clock down, really having to work with the pitchers, understanding what they’re trying to do and really what your main job behind the dish is,” McLeod said. “He’s got tremendous athleticism, so the work ethic is never been in question. He’s worked extremely hard with Tim Cossins, who is our field coordinator, handles all of our catching.”
“There’s still some polishing up back there that he needs to do. He still gets a little excited. He really likes to show off his arm. So it’s just understanding day in and day out, especially now that he’s going to be in Triple-A, about game planning and what hitters are doing, what the pitcher is trying work with his best stuff on that day and things of that nature.”
As for the possibility of Willson Contreras making his big league debut this season, McLeod alluded to him needing more development time without ruling out the possibility.
“I think a lot depends on how he handles his first big league Spring Training. One of the benefits last fall was Mike Borzello came over, Mike handles all of our game planning at the big league level works all of our catchers in the Major Leagues, and Mike came over and got to spend a lot of time with him in the Fall League to start that process and certainly Willson will get a crash course of it in Spring Training.”
“Being around David Ross and Miguel Montero, those guys are going to help him quite a bit and we have Henry Blanco on staff, another Venezuelan with plenty of obvious experience in the Major Leagues,” McLeod said. “I think a lot of it will be there for Willson to absorb and soak up. I think it’s now going into that Triple-A environment and see how he does with the first couple of months of the season.”
Willson Contreras went from a relatively unknown prospect to one of the best young players in the game in a calendar year. How Contreras responds this season with the I-Cubs after a breakout season at the Double-A level will give a good indication if he actually is the Cubs’ catcher of the future.