Contreras perfect through three for Peoria

November 2nd, 2021

PEORIA, Ariz. -- The Pirates are more about the future than the present. They have finished last in the National League East for three straight seasons, but they have one of the game's better farm systems and hope for returning to contention in a couple of years.

Right-hander is one reason Pittsburgh is optimistic about its rebuilding process, and he showed why in the Arizona Fall League on Tuesday afternoon. Starting for the Peoria Javelinas, the club's sixth-ranked prospect retired all nine Surprise Saguaros he faced en route to a 10-5 victory.

"I've faced Contreras over the years, and I'm much happier having a glove in my hand than a bat," said Peoria catcher Logan O'Hoppe (PHI 11). "His command with his secondary pitches was much better than the first time I caught him. He had much more confidence with his fastball and he executed it well up in the zone."

Contreras sat at 95-96 mph with his fastball and the Saguaros also had trouble making contact against his curveball and slider. He even mixed in a couple of effective changeups while throwing 25 of 37 pitches for strikes.

Originally signed by the Yankees for $250,000 out of the Dominican Republic in 2016, Contreras reached Low-A at age 18 in 2018 and returned there in 2019, leading the South Atlantic League with 12 wins as its only teenage pitching qualifier. Traded to the Pirates in a four-prospect package for Jameson Taillon in January, he displayed more fastball velocity, better breaking stuff and an increased ability to miss bats this season.

Contreras logged a 2.35 ERA, .186 opponents' average and a 65/11 K/BB ratio in 46 Double-A innings in May and June before missing the next two months with a forearm strain. He returned in September and made his big league debut on Sept. 29, fanning four Cubs in three scoreless innings.

After totaling just 61 innings during the season, Contreras came to the Fall League mainly to get some more work in advance of competing for a rotation job in Pittsburgh next spring. Operating on tight pitch counts and with his stuff and command not as sharp as usual, he surrendered three runs in as many innings in his first two outings.

That certainly wasn't the case against Surprise, when he was in complete control for three quick innings.

"He has it all," said Javelinas coach Kieran Mattison, who managed High-A Greensboro in the Pirates system this year. "He has the stuff, he has the slow heartbeat and he's a great teammate. We're very excited about his future in our starting rotation."

Three more Pirates provided the bulk of Peoria's offense. Second baseman Nick Gonzales (MLB 62), a first-round pick in 2020, went 2-for-4 with a home run, a walk, two steals, two runs and an RBI. Left fielder Canaan Smith-Njigba (PIT 27) -- another piece of the Taillon deal -- stroked three doubles in five at-bats, scored once and stole a base. Center fielder Ji-Hwan Bae (PIT 22) singled, swiped a base, scored twice and drove in a run.

Royals third baseman Nathan Eaton went 2-for-4 with a three-run homer for the Saguaros. One of the biggest surprises in the AFL, he leads the league in batting and is hitting .444/.479/.667.

The Saguaros dropped their second consecutive game but still sport the AFL's best record (12-5) and a three-game lead over the Glendale Desert Dogs in the West Division. Peoria improved to 8-8 and trails Surprise by 3 1/2 games.