Contreras close, but has work to do before joining Cubs

May 16th, 2016

CHICAGO -- Miguel Montero has kept an eye on Cubs catching prospect Willson Contreras, beginning with last summer during a rehab assignment at Double-A Tennessee. This spring, Contreras was in the big league camp, and now the catcher, ranked No. 2 on's list of top 30 Cubs prospects, is playing at Triple-A Iowa. Montero got another look at the youngster during his recent rehab assignment, and liked what he saw.

"I think he's ready," Montero said when asked whether Contreras could play in the big leagues. "I don't see why not."

Fans giddy at the possibility of Contreras joining the Cubs need to take a deep breath. It's not going to happen yet.

"His biggest thing is he just needs to work on his pitcher-catcher relationships and learn his pitchers and make sure he's always on their side," said catcher Tim Federowicz, who also watched Contreras this spring and began the season at Iowa. "I think that's a big part of this game that people don't understand, especially with the staff we have. That's a big part of it.

"You look at [David Ross] and Jon [Lester] -- they work so well together, and part of the reason is the relationship they have," Federowicz said. "Skill-wise, [Contreras] has everything you want."

Contreras was batting .339 in 31 games at Iowa through Sunday with three home runs, eight doubles, one triple and 18 RBIs. He also has a .436 on-base percentage, drawing 17 walks while striking out 14 times. With runners in scoring position, Contreras is batting .440 (11-for-16) with 12 RBIs.

Building those relationships doesn't mean Contreras needs to take the pitchers to lunch.

"It's more about comunication during the game," Federowicz said. "You can't be scared to say something you need to say to make a pitcher better. You learn with age, you learn with experience; and the more he plays, the more he catches, he'll learn."

Montero is a perfect example of that. On Saturday, he took Jake Arrieta aside after a rough fourth inning against the Pirates and gave the reigning National League Cy Young Award winner a pep talk.

"He came to me and pretty much said, 'Let it go. Stop trying to hold back and guide it. Use your aggressiveness and pitch to the bottom of the zone,'" Arrieta said of Montero's speech. "That was exactly what I needed to hear."

And that's what Contreras still needs to learn.

"He's on a team where you have a lot of veteran pitchers," Montero said. "It takes a little time for him to figure out the way they pitch and how to call a game for those pitchers. There's only one way to find out and that's for him to catch them. Other than that, he's never going to know if he's ready or not.

"The talent is there," Montero said of Contreras. "He's still a little bit immature, but he's only 23 -- [Friday] was his birthday, so he's 24. He'll be a really good catcher in the future."

Here's an update on some of the Cubs' other top prospects:

• Shortstop Gleyber Torres, ranked No. 1 on's top 30 Cubs list, was batting .252 with four home runs, eight doubles, one triple and 18 RBIs at Class A Myrtle Beach. Torres batted .179 in April, but he was hitting .367 (18-for-49) in May with three home runs and 10 RBIs.

• Second baseman Ian Happ, the Cubs' first-round pick in the 2015 MLB Draft, was batting .273 with four home runs, eight doubles, one triple and 22 RBIs in 35 games at Myrtle Beach. He's primarily played second base (26 games). Happ is third on's list of top Cubs prospects.

• Duane Underwood, 21, has made four starts at Double-A Tennessee, and struck out 15 while walking nine over 17 innings. The right-hander has a 4.76 ERA. In his first outing against Biloxi, he gave up four hits over four innings, and on May 10 against Montgomery, he struck out six over five innings. Underwood is ranked fourth on the Cubs' Top 30 Prospects list.

• Albert Almora Jr., 22, is riding a 12-game hitting streak at Iowa, batting .368 (21-for-57) during the stretch. Overall, he was hitting .338 in 34 games with three home runs, seven doubles, three triples and 21 RBIs. Almora also impressed Montero during the catcher's rehab stint with Iowa.

"[Almora] made a play, and I think he's the only one who can make that catch," Montero said of the outfielder, who robbed Nashville's Andrew Lambo of an extra-base hit Wednesday when he chased a ball in the right-center gap and made a diving catch.

Almora was the Cubs' first-round pick in 2012 and is fifth on the Cubs' Top 30 Prospects list.