Willson Contreras is only 21, but has been in the Cubs' organization for 5 years. An unheralded IFA from Puerto Cabello, Venezuela, Contreras spent two years in the Dominican Summer League before making his stateside debut in Boise 2 years ago. In the 5 years he's played for Cubs affiliates, he's done yeoman's work, playing adequate defense with mediocre offensive numbers. This season, though, he's shown some progress with the bat. Will Contreras keep improving and make a name for himself in the next year or two?
Willson Contreras has had 1049 plate appearances as a professional, going back all the way to his age-17 season. In those PA, he's hit .257/.319/.373 for a .692 OPS. At first blush, that screams "org filler." I'm not so sure I see it that way. He's had wRC+ totals of 84, 92, and 110 the last three years. Each of those were at a different level, and each of those were as Contreras received the bulk of playing time at the most physically demanding position on the baseball field. He walked 7.4% of the time last year, which isn't great EXCEPT it's a 3% increase from last year. He's also more feared than before as a hitter; he hit 11 HR after 4 and 3 in the last 2 years. Overall, his ISO climbed from .086 and .084 to .176. That will get you noticed. Put it al together, and he owned a .248/.319/.425. And all of this was after a 50 point BABIP drop!
Contreras has some swing and miss to his game, with a 19.1% rate this year and a 20.3% rate last year. Those are completely acceptable, though, and I wouldn't be worried about it (especially because his ISO went up to a rate where pitchers will fear him).
Contreras is a converted 3B, so the position does not come naturally to WIllson. The tradeoff, though, is that he's got better speed than a normal catcher does. He won't get a chance to use it defensively (though he has a plus hose on him, so he has the skillset to be a defensive asset once he has experience), it will help him as far as baserunning and legging out extra bases. His bat profiles as a bottom-of-the-order type; that's not a knock on him, just a reality of a catcher that isn't offensively incredible. In 2012, he threw out 47% of baserunners, which is an incredible clip. This year, it was 29%, still a great number.
Contreras has been praised for his ability to hit a good fastball, which is important, but it's an open question what he'll do against breaking pitches. Even after 5 years in the minors, he's still only seen as high as Kane County.
Contreras is in a unique place right now. He's probably the best catching prospect in the Cubs system, but he's not a great one. Furthermore, Chadd Krist is the other guy in the conversation, and he's at the level right about WIllson. I'd like to see Krist repeat A+ next year, but Contreras more or less needs to play every day and he should be promoted as well. I wouldn't be surprised at all if Krist is promoted somewhat aggressively to Tennessee to open the season, and Contreras gets the nod in Daytona next year. I also wouldn't be surprised if Contreras starts in Kane County even though he deserves to be promoted. I also wouldn't be surprised if one or the other wasn't thrown in a trade for another player with similar positional glut issues. If I had to guess, Willson will be the full-time catcher in Daytona next year, and he'll spend the entire year there. Unfortunately, I think he'll probably put up a 115 wRC+ that we won't be able to read much into, because we won't be able to see him play and he won't face the caliber of pitching that I'm interested in seeing. Still, it was a great year for him, and he played his way into fringe Top-30 consideration, if I had to take a stab at that sort of thing.