MESA, Ariz. -- This will be Willson Contreras' second full season with the Cubs, and the potential is there for another 20-plus home runs and possibly 100 RBIs. What the Cubs are most excited about is watching him grow as a catcher."I think the sky's the limit," Cubs general manager
MESA, Ariz. -- This will be Willson Contreras' second full season with the Cubs, and the potential is there for another 20-plus home runs and possibly 100 RBIs. What the Cubs are most excited about is watching him grow as a catcher.
"I think the sky's the limit," Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer said. "He can throw, he can block, he's super athletic, he plays with an edge. I do think there's a lot more levels to go as far as his performance.
"He's still learning catching. He works exceptionally hard and he's a competitive kid. I think he's just going to keep improving."
The biggest endorsement for Contreras may come from Jonathan Lester, who was matched up with the young catcher full time last season following David Ross' retirement.
"We worked so well last year," Lester said. "He's not afraid. As a young guy, he calls people out when he needs to, and behind the plate, he's not afraid to get in an umpire's face. He's not scared. I loved his preparation and how he prepared for every single game, and it wasn't just for himself but for who was on the mound. That's hard to teach."
Contreras was worried that he was responsible for Lester's slow start last season -- the lefty went 1-2 with a 3.45 ERA in his first eight outings.
"Our relationship has come a long way since the first year," Contreras said. "[Last year], I started asking him so many questions. What do I need to do to get him better? He said, 'Don't worry about it. We've got this.'"
Added Ross: "When you have the 'How can I make you better?' mentality, that's great. One of the key pieces for this team last year and this year will be Willson and his ability to work this pitching staff. It's such a talented pitching staff. I promise there's not a harder worker I've been around in the catching group who is as young and dedicated as he is."
This spring, Contreras has had to learn how to work with new Cubs pitchers Tyler Chatwood and Yu Darvish, who gave the catcher an endorsement during his introductory press conference. Darvish was asked if he was looking forward to reuniting with backtstop Chris Gimenez, who was his teammate on the Rangers.
"I like Contreras better," Darvish quipped.
Contreras is 25, and he is a little excitable.
"He can be emotional at times -- that's who he is," manager Joe Maddon said. "As he matures and controls his emotions more readily -- however, you never want to subtract from his passion and how he approaches the day mentally. He gets it, he knows it. I would say the biggest thing for him this year would be to keep his emotions in check and get back to the edges on the plate as a receiver."
If you think Contreras has a strong arm, he does. According to Statcast™, out of 52 catchers, Contreras' "max effort" average on all throws (not just to second base) was 87.0 mph, which ranks fourth behind Gary Sanchez, Martin Maldonado and J.T. Realmuto.
If you're measuring pop time to second base, Contreras was tied for eighth out of those 52 at 1.95 seconds. The Major League average is 2.01 seconds. And for those who think Contreras makes too many trips to the mound, Maddon said it's not his fault.
"Willson studies well, really well," Maddon said. "Blame it on us, because we're big on [game reports] and we think it's a big part of our success. That's what concerns me the most -- is that we're unable to communicate a thought that's necessary -- not necessarily about changing signs."
Carrie Muskat has covered the Cubs since 1987, and for MLB.com since 2001. You can follow her on Twitter @CarrieMuskat.