Hard work and a new approach to pitch-framing have paid off for Willson Contreras
Over the winter, Willson Contreras accomplished something few two-time All-Stars have had to do in the prime of their careers: he reinvented himself.
Contreras wanted to improve his pitch-framing and the Cubs helped him change his approach with new catching coach Craig Driver leading the charge.
Back in spring training in Arizona, Contreras took Marquee Sports Network behind the scenes on his defensive approach, detailing how he works to try to steal strikes for his pitchers.
And the early returns have been successful for the 28-year-old catcher.
“He just looks relaxed,” Jon Lester said. “He looks confident in what he’s doing. Anytime you do something for a long time and somebody tells you, ‘hey, you need to completely revamp it,’ there’s the doubt. You have to buy into it and that’s hard to do in the middle of a big league season like he was trying to do last year.
“So for him to have that whole offseason and then obviously the extra time coming into this camp, he just looks free. He looks comfortable, you can tell he feels confident back there and to me, that falls into the pitch-calling as well. He’s confident in what he’s doing back there catching and calling. It just makes our job a lot easier.”
Marquee Sports Network analyst and former pitcher Ryan Dempster loves the new look from Contreras, showing the difference from even last season to this year.
Contreras is now working down to up with his glove, which has been particularly helpful with pitches low in the zone.
It’s still a small sample size, of course, but if Contreras can maintain the adjustments he’s made, that’s huge for him and the Cubs moving forward. This is a guy who already is one of the best hitting catchers in the game with a ton of energy and passion and a rocket for a right arm.
His strides as a receiver behind the plate don’t come as a surprise to the Cubs, who saw the work he put in last season and knew a full winter and spring could help further his development.
The day after the 2019 season ended, Theo Epstein was asked about Contreras’ pitch-framing and predicted we were all going to see that aspect of the catcher’s game become a strength in 2020.
“He’s an extremely talented catcher,” Epstein said. “Probably as good a thrower as anyone in baseball, as good a blocker as anyone in baseball. Spent a lot of time working on his framing this year. He tried a lot of different techniques. It was an important year for him because he tried some new things and he figured out what works for him and what doesn’t.
“Not everyone can attempt framing the same way. I think toward the end, he found something that he believes in that he’s going to continue to work on this winter. You’re going to see a significantly improved framer and receiver going into next year.”