Joe Maddon caught everyone off guard when he decided to start Willson Contreras at first base Thursday for Anthony Rizzo. Contreras admitted he was surprised when he received a text telling him he was starting at first base. But Contreras, just a week into his big league career, is willing to do whatever he can to help the Cubs win games.
Willson Contreras played one game at first base last year in the Arizona Fall League and had 21 games worth of experience at first in the Cubs’ system. So the position was not an unknown. Maddon talked to the Cubs player development staff and Iowa manager Marty Pevey about Contreras playing first base. And Maddon was comfortable with what he was told.
After a conversation with Contreras, the Cubs skipper felt he could handle it. Contreras borrowed Javier Baez’s glove and he spent pre-game working with Gary Jones on the field.
The Cubs really like what Contreras brings to the team offensively and defensively. The Cubs view Contreras as the team’s catcher of the future. He has work to do behind the plate but while he’s learning how to handle a Major League staff, call a game and become a better receiver from Miguel Montero and David Ross, Maddon is exploring ways to keep his bat in the lineup.
Maddon told the beat writers Thursday not only will Contreras catch and help at first base that he will also see playing time in the outfield. Maddon said Contreras would almost be on the “same program as Kyle Schwarber was on [last season], minus first base.”
So in order to keep Willson Contreras in the lineup on a daily basis, he could play outfield, first base and catcher. Contreras also has experience at third base, the first position he played in the Cubs’ system.
Willson Contreras played left and right field for Short-Season Boise in 2011. Contreras played five games in left, starting four, and he lined up in right field once. In 2012, Contreras played 13 games in right field with 12 starts for Boise and played three in left with two starts. The last game action he saw in an outfield was in Winter Ball in 2014, one game for the Tigres. In the Cubs’ system, Contreras has played a total of 24 games in the outfield (16 in right field, eight in left field) with 19 starts.
Offensively, Contreras is 3-for-13 after his first six big league games with two home runs and a walk. Contreras has shown the same approach at the plate in the majors as he did in the minors.
Contreras is expected to catch at least two games a week. Contreras caught John Lackey and Jason Hammel and appeared to get on the same page with the veteran starters as the game progressed. Maddon said Kyle Hendricks would benefit more from Miguel Montero behind the plate right now. But that could all change. The Cubs plan with Contreras seems to be fluid and far from set in stone.
What is known is that Joe Maddon and the Cubs think Willson Contreras will hit in the big leagues. And they must find ways to keep him in the lineup.