The Cubs trimmed the Spring Training roster Friday to 45 players with 11 cuts that included top position-player prospects C Willson Contreras and 3B Jeimer Candelario.
Contreras and Candelario finished last season as teammates with Double-A Tennessee and spent the fall together in the AFL with the Mesa Solar Sox. And both players performed extremely well during their first big league camp.
Joe Maddon thinks Contreras and Candelario “have the chance to be impact additions at some point this season.” Maddon said, “I do think that if they go to the minor leagues and play like we think they can play and if there’s a need, I think both those guys can be very impactful.”
Willson Contreras impressed Maddon, the coaches and the front office both offensively and defensively during his time in big league camp. Depending on the publication, Contreras is considered one of the top two catching prospects in all of baseball.
Multiple reports, including one from Comcast SportsNet, have stated Contreras is viewed as the catcher of the future and untouchable in trade talks.
In nine Cactus League games, Contreras was 5-for-14 with three doubles, four walks and no strikeouts (.357/.500/.571) for a 1.071 OPS.
And for as good as he looked at the plate, he was even more impressive behind it.
Contreras is learning how to call a game, communicate with pitchers and apply a game plan using the team’s intricate game planning system.
Joe Maddon said, “It’s being able to absorb all that information and get behind there in a Major League game and process it all and then gain that kind of connection with a pitching staff. That’s one thing we really tried to get done this camp from the first day forward … to get the pitchers to understand why it’s important to connect with this guy because we definitely see that happening at some point.”
By all accounts, Contreras’ English is getting better and Maddon said he “just gets it.”
Contreras has the arm strength to control a running game with pop times around 1.8, the Major League average is 2.0.
“When you watch Willson throw it’s on a different level. You have a weapon behind the plate to stop the running game,” Maddon said.
Contreras feels he is close to the big leagues and recently told the Sun-Times his teammates treat him like a brother and he feels like he’s part of the family. And he’s a quick learner that wants to improve daily.
“I think he’s got as much ability as anybody at that position. He’s the kind of athletic, strong, strong-armed, powerful-legged, young catcher that you don’t come across very often. We’re all searching for the perfect catcher who can do all the things we want behind the plate and also hit,” Mike Borzello said. “Those guys are few and far between. The talent is there. I mean, he’s capable of doing anything that you need done back there.”
“We’re a team right now that you have to be 100 percent ready to go. We want to make sure he’s polished in all areas,” Borzello said. “He works as hard as anyone I’ve ever had. And when you have that kid of ability and that work ethic on top of it, there’s no stopping you. He has a look in his eye like he’s coming. He’s not going to let anybody stand in his way.”
Willson Contreras will be the starting and every day catcher at Triple-A Iowa when the season gets underway.
Jeimer Candelario picked up this spring where he left off in the Arizona Fall League. Candelario played in 13 games and was 11-for-31 with four doubles, two home runs and two walks (.355/.394/.677) for a 1.071 OPS. The switch-hitting Candelario picked up hits from both sides of the plate in two different games and struck out three times in 31 at-bats.
Candelario is a third baseman and is blocked at the big league level, unless Kris Bryant is moved to left field. Ken Rosenthal mentioned that scenario as being a possibility if Jorge Soler is traded for a frontline pitcher.
Comcast SportsNet reported that Candelario could headline a trade for a top of the rotation starter. And Ken Rosenthal thinks Candelario could be part of a package to bring back a starter like Sonny Gray.
Joe Maddon liked what he saw from Candelario, especially his work ethic. Maddon noted that Candelario doesn’t give up a single swing, not even in batting practice, and that translates to the field.
The Cubs optioned him to Double-A Tennessee “for the moment” according to ESPN Chicago. Even if he starts with the Smokies, Jeimer Candelario should be promoted to Triple-A Iowa rather quickly if he continues to perform at the plate and in the field as he has for the last calendar year.