Facing uncertain future, Willson Contreras relishing opportunity to be a mentor with Cubs
It was quite the weekend at Wrigley Field for Willson Contreras.
He enjoyed the “best moment of his life” while playing against his little brother, William, in the big leagues.
While Saturday marked a “first” for Contreras, he has essentially filled the role of big brother all season to this Cubs team — especially when it comes to Christopher Morel.
There was the viral moment earlier this month when Contreras reminded Morel to take a breath in the middle of an at-bat — which resulted in the rookie’s first career walk-off RBI:
After Morel got down 0-2 in the final AB, he looked back at Contreras, who reminded him to take a deep breath.— Tony Andracki (@TonyAndracki23) June 2, 2022
Morel said that helped him refocus and ultimately led to the walk-off sac fly. pic.twitter.com/oPCoHlGnxr
Morel was quick to give Contreras credit for that moment and for plenty of other advice since he was promoted to the big leagues in mid-May.
When Morel homered in his debut, Contreras’ reaction showed everything about how happy he was for his young protégé:
Willson's reaction is everything. pic.twitter.com/8eTS9bPixK— Marquee Sports Network (@WatchMarquee) May 18, 2022
Contreras is a free agent at the end of the season and with the Cubs 16 games under .500, all options are on the table for Jed Hoyer’s front office as the trade deadline approaches if the two sides are not able to reach an agreement on an extension.
But for right now, Contreras is relishing the opportunity to be a leader for this inexperienced Cubs team.
“It is fun, to be honest,” Contreras said. “I don’t think that I’m a veteran right now. I just have a little more experience to help the younger guys. It has helped me too, getting to know these guys and having fun.
“It’s really fun to be a nice guy and talk to them. Not call them out in the game, not being a tough guy because I’m experienced. I don’t do that. I watch and whenever I have to address something, I will in a nice way. I think that communication in the clubhouse is important.”
The 30-year-old Contreras has spent half his life in the Cubs organization.
He understood the situation coming into Spring Training but insisted he was in a good place in Arizona. He worked to stay focused on the present, blocking out the outside noise and has seemed at peace with his uncertain future.
That mindset has paid off, as Contreras has not only been the best player on the Cubs this season but one of the top players in all of baseball.
He ranks 3rd in the National League in on-base percentage (.395) and 4th in OPS (.927), sitting among such superstars as Paul Goldschmidt, Manny Machado and Bryce Harper on the leaderboard.
All the while, his passion and intensity has not wavered.
“I love having Willson back there [as catcher],” Justin Steele said. “It’s really nice to have somebody behind the plate that wants to win the game as badly as you do.”
Contreras has fully embraced the opportunity to be a leader in the clubhouse, working to set the example on and off the field. Thanks to the universal DH, he has been able to stay fresh and is entrenched in the No. 2 spot in the batting order behind Morel on a daily basis.
The All-Star Game is a month away but as it stands right now, Contreras looks like a lock to start the Midsummer Classic for the NL squad in LA.
“He’s been terrific,” Jed Hoyer said. “He’s been the one constant force in our offense. … Nothing but positives based on his season. I don’t think he has a part of him that has the ability to not play really hard every night. That’s what you need when the team is struggling.”
The Cubs had a 10-game losing streak come to a close with Friday’s victory against the Braves at Wrigley Field.
After beating the defending champions, Contreras spoke about the message he has been trying to instill in his teammates during a tough stretch.
“We’re gonna lose, we’re gonna win but from now on, we have to keep our attitude and know that we have enough talent to keep winning games,” Contreras said.
He is doing everything he can to help his team get to that winning level consistently. With his experience behind the plate, he shared advice with Keegan Thompson in between starts to help get the young right-hander back on track.
Thompson had struggled in back-to-back outings on the last road trip and Contreras noticed his front shoulder was flying open so he made sure to have some conversations with Thompson.
And the advice to Morel never stops.
The rookie had another impressive plate appearance Friday to help the Cubs end that losing streak. Morel had already struck out 3 times in the game and after quickly getting to 2 strikes in the final at-bat, he was able to lay off a couple of pitches before lifting a sacrifice fly to drive in the only run of the game.
Throughout that entire at-bat, Contreras was shouting advice from the on-deck circle.
“Being that young in that spot is not easy,” Contreras said. “I was trying to give him a vote of confidence by saying a lot of things out there. He was having a rough day.
“I told him earlier [in the day]: ‘We can have a rough day but the only thing that can change is your attitude. You have to keep going. You have to think that you’re gonna have one more chance to win the ballgame.'”
Contreras has been trying to drive the point home about how important attitude is on a daily basis.
And as we approach a possible inflection point in his career, he continues to say all the right things.
“I don’t want to put the cameras on me because I’m [talking about the importance of having a good attitude],” Contreras said. “I’m just trying to lift this team up because losing sucks.
“If you’re having a bad day but your attitude is right on point, you’re gonna end up having a good day like we did [Friday]. It’s not about me. It’s about the Cubs. It’s about this team. I love my team.”