ST. LOUIS, MO. -- Before the Cubs' second game of the season Tuesday at Busch Stadium, Willson Contreras was studying video in the visitors' clubhouse with starter Jonathan Lester and catching coach Mike Borzello.Two days before, Contreras had officially begun his role as successor to David Ross as Lester's regular
ST. LOUIS, MO. -- Before the Cubs' second game of the season Tuesday at Busch Stadium, Willson Contreras was studying video in the visitors' clubhouse with starter Jonathan Lester and catching coach Mike Borzello.
Two days before, Contreras had officially begun his role as successor to David Ross as Lester's regular catcher in the Cubs' opener vs. the Cardinals.
So far so good, as Lester gave up one run in five-plus innings before leaving with a no-decision.
"He's still learning, but I have no problems with him [catching] anybody," said manager Joe Maddon about Contreras' ability as a receiver.
Contreras' dramatic three-run home run in the top of the ninth inning in Sunday's game, eventually won by the Cardinals, 4-3, with a walk-off in the bottom half of the frame, was another in a series of notable feats by the 24-year-old native of Venezuela. In fact, with less than a full year of experience in the Majors, Contreras has put together quite the resume:
• He is the 30th Major Leaguer in history to hit a home run on the first pitch he saw, last June 19 vs. Pittsburgh.
• He hit a game-tying, pinch-hit two-run single in the top of the ninth inning in Game 4 of last year's National League Division Series against the Giants, a contest in which the Cubs eventually took the lead and eliminated San Francisco.
• He received the bulk of the starts as a rookie during the Cubs' playoff run last year, including starting behind the plate in Game 7 of the World Series at Cleveland.
Now Contreras is solidifying his status as the Cubs' No. 1 catcher, as the club looks to repeat as World Series champions.
"Those are things I've learned over time, things that were ingrained in me since my time in the Minor Leagues," Contreras said in Spanish while discussing the maturity that has helped him in his first few months in the Majors. "They're also things I learned last year in the playoffs and World Series, things that you've got to put in practice and that have helped me my whole career."
Contreras, who will turn 25 next month, hit .282/.357/.488 in 2016 after being brought up in June, with 14 doubles, 12 home runs and 35 RBIs in 76 games.
The former Minor League infielder and outfielder says he feels much more at ease this year, from Spring Training to the Cubs' first regular-season series against the Cardinals, in which he's gone 3-for-7 with a home run, a walk and three RBIs.
"I feel really changed, really good," he said. "I feel much better than last year, not just with Joe and the rest of the coaches, but also my teammates, who have made me feel at home. We're like a family and I have to thank this team for having the confidence to put me behind the plate.
"It's a blessing to be on this team."
Like much of the Cubs' young core, which last fall helped the club win the franchise's first World Series title in 108 years, Contreras is just beginning to reach his potential.
"Willson's just going to keep getting better; if you like him now, heads-up, you're going to love him in a couple years," Maddon said. "Willy's such a good student. He studies really well with Borzello prior to the game, and even during the game, they sit next to each other in between innings. I'm really confident that he knows exactly what we want to get done."
*David Venn is the Executive Editor of MLB.com's Spanish-language site, LasMayores.com.*