I’m sure it’s just a coincidence that after another game when Miguel Montero proved he really can’t catch right now (or maybe ever), that the Cubs finally fired the Cubs career of the great Tim Federowicz into the sun, and recalled their top prospect, Willson Contreras.
The Cubs are saying that Willson will be the “third catcher” and play behind both Montero and David Ross, but does that really sound like something Joe Maddon would do? If Willson can hold his own behind the plate and at it, he’s going to play. The Cubs brought up Albert Almora to be a fourth outfielder and Joe found him 17 at bats in his first week.
Montero’s a mess right now. He’s thrown out seven percent of runners trying to steal on him 1 and he’s been doing a lot of Gabor Paul Bako-ing, lately. You know, running to the backstop to pick up a ball that should have been caught. I don’t know for sure, but I can’t imagine Miggy is physically right. He’s got a bad back, and I can’t think of a worse position to play with a sore back than catcher.
So Contreras is up. It’s not to showcase him for a trade. It’s not to play him at third or the outfield when he’s not catching. He proved a lot of stuff in the minors. That he can really hit, that he’s a quick study behind the plate, and that he’s not a third baseman. 2 He’s not up so the Cubs can decide if he’s the catcher of the future so they can trade Kyle Schwarber. Kyle’s future as a catcher is that of depth. He’s never going to be a frontline catcher. The whole idea that he “can’t play left” was fueled almost exclusively by two bad innings in the NLCS. Hell, by that logic, Chris Coghlan should have been catching a decade ago.
Joe will find time for all three catchers, I’m sure. But part of this is that he’s had to split the time between Ross and Montero more evenly than he’d like to. Ross’ workload has been too much for a 39 year old. He was originally only supposed to catch Jon Lester, but now he’s getting three or four starts a week. The wear and tear is showing, and the more at bats he gets, the less he hits. But Joe hasn’t been able to just play Miggy more. So that’s where Willson will fit in. And, if he plays well, he’ll play more and more. That’s what the Cubs do.
Theo and Jed don’t call players up if they don’t think they’re ready. They surprised us when they called Almora up last week instead of throwing the ghost of Matt Murton on the 40 man, or just brining up Muneiori Kawasaki, and having Javy Baez get some extra outfield innings, if necessary. They felt like Almora was ready, and he responded with six hits, three doubles, a game winning RBI and a hit that set up the Cubs taking the lead in extra innings yesterday.
This is not a planned cameo for Contreras. If he struggles, it might turn into that, but short of him hitting like Federowicz and catching like Montero he’s up to stay. This is one of the things that makes the 2016 Cubs so unbelievable. They are 24 games over .500 and have seven top prospects on the roster or DL, all 24 or younger (Kris Bryant, Addison Russell, Kyle Schwarber, Javy Baez, Jorge Soler, Albert Almora, and now, Willson Contreras).
Remember when Theo talked about the dual tracks of developing and contention? Well, here it is.