MESA, Ariz. -- Anyone who has seen Willson Contreras play knows the Cubs catcher is passionate about the game, and that was evident when scout Paul Weaver first saw the youngster at a tryout in Venezuela. The only problem he had was getting Contreras off the field.Weaver was the Cubs'
MESA, Ariz. -- Anyone who has seen Willson Contreras play knows the Cubs catcher is passionate about the game, and that was evident when scout Paul Weaver first saw the youngster at a tryout in Venezuela. The only problem he had was getting Contreras off the field.
Weaver was the Cubs' international scouting director in 2009, and he went to Puerto Cabello, Venezuela, at the urging of scouts Hector Ortega and Julio Figueroa. Contreras played shortstop and center field in the Criollitos Little League, and Ortega and Figueroa first saw him play at the El Palito refinery, which is a local field in Puerto Cabello.
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At the tryout, Weaver and the Cubs' scouts watched the outfielders, then the infielders, then the catchers. Contreras was everywhere.
"Willson started in the outfield, then he took ground balls at shortstop, and then he took ground balls at third base," Weaver said. "He wanted to play every position."
Even then, Contreras had a good, compact throwing motion -- as well as a great personality.
"[Weaver] called me over to the side and said, 'How old are you?' And I said, 'I'm 16,'" Contreras said. "He said, 'Sooner or later, you're going to play for the Cubs.' I was excited."
Weaver saw enough, and the Cubs signed Contreras that day.
"Talking with Hector and writing the report, I said, 'Where's this guy going to play?' And Hector said, 'What do you think?'" Weaver said. "I said, 'I think he might be a candidate to catch.' He had a lot of intangibles. All of us go out and look for the physical tools, and he had the physical tools, but he also had a tremendous amount of passion. He was a high-energy player and loved baseball. You could see it."
Weaver was to attend tryouts in four places over a five-day period in Venezuela, and the day after signing Contreras, they drove to another park, arriving at 9:30 a.m.
"The first guy sitting in the dugout is Willson Contreras," Weaver said. "Hector and I go up to him and say, 'What are you doing here?' He said, 'I want to work out.'"
Weaver and Ortega tried to explain that Contreras didn't need to do that because he already had a deal with the Cubs.
"He said, 'It doesn't matter. I want to play,'" Weaver said.
Contreras smiled when asked about that.
"That's true," Contreras said. "That's me. I just wanted to play."
For five straight days, Contreras showed up at the Cubs' tryouts. Some of the locations required two- to three-hour drives from his home, but it didn't matter.
"After the third or fourth day, I said, 'Hector, tell Willson he doesn't have to keep coming every day,'" Weaver said. "Hector said, 'Paul, you go tell him, because he wants to be here every day.' That's just the type of kid he is."
Weaver -- who was a scout for 40 years, covering the U.S., Latin America and Asia at various times -- asked Contreras where he wanted to play.
"He said, 'I'll play anywhere,'" Weaver said. "You could play him anywhere."
The Cubs had Contreras start his pro career in the Dominican Summer League in 2009 at third base. Weaver, who is no longer scouting, credited Chicago's player development staff for helping Contreras become the player he is today.
Now, the 24-year-old Contreras is taking on the responsibility of being the Cubs' main guy behind the plate, and that includes replacing David Ross as Jonathan Lester's personal catcher.
"It was hard on him coming in last year, not really catching a lot of guys and having to get to know us and just getting thrown into the situation," Lester said of Contreras, who was promoted from Triple-A in mid-June. "It's just a matter of throwing and innings and pitches and all that stuff. I'm not concerned about it at all. Willie's such a good kid and cares, and he wants to learn and he wants to get better. I don't see any reason why this will be an issue for anybody."
How much does Contreras care? Lester was to throw a side session this spring, and he asked the coaches if Contreras was available. He wasn't, because the catcher was slated to start in that day's Cactus League game. When Contreras heard that Lester had asked, he got into his gear and caught the bullpen session, then started the game.
"That's one of the things you love about him is that he loves to play," Weaver said. "Some guys like to play, but he loves to play. He has the passion and the willingness to compete. Anywhere you put him, he'd compete. ... He's a wonderful kid, loves baseball, loves people. It's worked out great for him."
Carrie Muskat has covered the Cubs since 1987, and for MLB.com since 2001. She writes a blog, Muskat Ramblings. You can follow her on Twitter @CarrieMuskat and listen to her podcast.