Contreras among top 10 prospect performers Monday
Cubs No. 10 prospect goes 4-for-4 for Smokies to clinch the Southern League batting title
To say that Willson Contreras had a breakout season is an understatement.
The Cubs' No. 10 prospect collected four of Double-A Tennessee's seven hits in a 2-0 win over Biloxi on Monday to clinch the Southern League's batting title with a .333 average. The 4-for-4 performance enabled him to finish 11 points ahead of Twins No. 6 prospect Max Kepler (.322).
Not bad for a guy who batted just .242 with a .649 OPS last season in the Class A Advanced Florida State League.
In addition to his career-best batting average, Contreras established new highs in on-base percentage (.413), slugging (.478), hits (151), doubles (34) and RBIs (75) while playing in 126 games -- his previous high for games played was 86 in 2013 -- for the Smokies. He also hit eight home runs, scored 71 runs and posted a vastly improved 62/57 strikeout-to-walk ratio.
While the Venezuela native believes that playing winter ball last offseason in his home country set the stage for the best professional campaign in his five-year career, he also credits the Cubs organization for giving him every opportunity to succeed.
"I'm just really happy that the organization was able to give me the opportunity to play every single day this year," Contreras told MiLB.com through assistant hitting coach Guillermo Martinez. "Just being able to grind out every single at-bat and working hard in the cage with [Martinez] and doing everything possible just to learn as much as possible and to make adjustments as quick as possible at the plate."
Though signed as a third baseman in 2009, Contreras made the transition to catcher in 2012 and has since appeared in at least 72 games at the position in each of the last three seasons. In 2015, he threw out 28 percent (27 of 97) of attempted basestealers -- 31 percent for his career -- in 75 games behind the plate.
Contreras will continue to refine his game in the coming months after being selected to play in the prestigious Arizona Fall League.
The rest of the 10 best performances from top Minor Leaguers
• Astros No. 4 prospect (No. 60 overall) Kyle Tucker went 2-for-4 with a solo home run and scored two runs as Rookie-level Greeneville came back to beat Princeton, 10-8, to force a Game 3 in the Appalachian League title series. The 18-year-old is batting .350 (7-for-20) with two home runs, five runs scored and three RBIs in five games over two playoff series for Greeneville. In his professional debut, the 2015 No. 5 overall pick has posted a .254 batting average, five home runs, 36 RBIs and 19 stolen bases in 68 games between the Appalachian and Gulf Coast Leagues.
• Athletics No. 2 prospect Matt Olson slugged a two-run home run and doubled as part of a 2-for-3 performance in Double-A Midland's 6-4 win over Frisco. The pair of hits extended the 21-year-old's hitting streak to 10 games, during which he's batting .438 (14-for-32) with six doubles, two home runs, seven runs scored and seven RBIs. The recent hot streak has boosted his season batting average and OPS to .249 and .826 OPS, respectively. Olson finished third in the Minor Leagues last season with 37 home runs but has hit only 17 in 133 games this season for the Rockhounds, which still is good enough for a third-place tie in the Texas League. Beyond that, Olson also ranks second in the league in doubles (tied-37), on-base percentage (.388) and walks (105).
• Cubs No. 26 prospect Trevor Clifton guided Class A South Bend to a 3-0 win over Lake County, allowing just two hits while striking out five over 6 1/3 scoreless innings. The 20-year-old right-hander has completed at least six innings in five of his last six starts, going 5-1 with a 1.96 ERA and 0.98 WHIP in that span. Meanwhile, Clifton's strong outing on Monday dropped his ERA (3.98) below 4.00 for the first time since early June.
• Dodgers No. 7 prospect Alex Verdugo stayed hot Monday, going 3-for-4 with his ninth home run of the season, a pair of RBIs and two runs scored as Class A Advanced Rancho Cucamonga defeated Inland Empire, 8-7. The 19-year-old center fielder has crushed the ball since joining the Quakes, batting .385/.406/.659 with 15 extra-base hits, 19 RBIs and 20 runs scored in 23 games. Meanwhile, Verdugo is batting .577 with two homers, four doubles, eight runs scored and 10 RBIs during his current seven-game hitting streak.
• Giants No. 13 prospect Mac Williamson was just 2-for-21 in September entering Monday before erupting for two home runs in Triple-A Sacramento's 11-0 rout of Albuquerque. The 25-year-old outfielder has hit eight of his 13 home runs since moving up to the Pacific Coast League, where he's also posted a .249/.370/.439 batting line in 54 games. The 2012 third-rounder appeared in only 23 games last season before undergoing Tommy John surgery, but he's returned strong in 2015 to bat .275/.368/.433 with 43 extra-base hits and 73 RBIs in 123 games between Double-A Richmond and Sacramento.
• Indians No. 2 prospect (No. 37 overall) Clint Frazier went 3-for-4 with a home run, triple and two stolen bases Monday in Class A Advanced Lynchburg's 6-2 loss to Carolina. The dinger was the 21-year-old outfielder's 16th of the season and first since Aug. 18, when he connected on two home runs against Frederick, while the pair of steals improved his season total to 15. As it has been the case throughout his young career, Frazier once again made up for his slow start with a monster second half to raise his season batting line to .285/.377/.465 through 134 games.
• Nationals No. 5 prospect Erick Fedde turned in his best start since joining Class A Hagerstown, allowing just two hits over five scoreless innings in a 6-2 victory over Lexington. The 22-year-old right-hander walked one batter and struck out seven, matching his season high. Pitching in his first professional campaign after undergoing Tommy John surgery in 2014, Fedde is yet to log more than five innings in a start this season. However, the limited workload hasn't prevented the UNLV product from posting a 3.38 ERA and striking out 59 in 64 innings (14 starts), and he's allowed only 16 walks and two home runs in that span.
• Padres No. 26 prospect Franmil Reyes' perfect day at the plate saw him match his career-highs in hits (5-for-5), doubles (three) and RBIs (five), while Class A Fort Wayne crushed Bowling Green, 17-0. The 18-year-old outfielder's five-hit performance extended his hitting streak to eight games, during which he's batting .531 (17-for-32) with eight runs scored, four doubles, two home runs and 10 RBIs. Since achieving his first career five-RBI game back on July 29, Reyes is batting .307 with 19 runs scored, 14 extra-base hits and 25 RBIs in his last 34 contests.
• Red Sox No. 23 prospect Marco Hernandez powered Triple-A Pawtucket's offense to a 10-2 win over Buffalo, going 4-for-5 with a home run and double while matching his career-high with four RBIs. The 23-year-old middle infielder has been swung a hot bat of late for the Red Sox, with a .390 batting average (16-for-41), eight runs scored and seven RBIs in his last 10 games. On the season, Hernandez has produced a .305/.330/.454 batting line to go along with nine home runs, six triples and 30 doubles in 114 games between the Double- and Triple-A levels.