#MLBPlayers411 | Willson Contreras
When Willson Contreras got an opportunity last year after seven-plus years in the Cubs' minor league system, he made an emphatic statement in the Windy City.
The energetic, dynamic Contreras burst onto the national scene by hitting a home run in his first major-league at-bat. A mid-June addition to the 2016 roster for the eventual World Series-champion Cubs, he wound up playing an integral role in the team's historic run.
This season, he led the team's mid-season turnaround, as the team now sets its sights on another deep October run.
Contreras has a passion for the game and is not afraid to exhibit his enthusiasm. He has been seen playing catch with young Cubs' fans during rain delays, fist-pumping after throwing out a baserunner and celebrating a home run with emphatic expressions.
“He plays with his hair on fire,” manager Joe Maddon said earlier this season.
The 25-year old, 6-foot-1 catcher from Puerto Cabello, Venezuela, has said he brings his own style of play to the game of baseball, partly from his Latin heritage.
Offensively, Contreras ranks among the league's elite catchers. In 2017, he has slashed .275/.351/.504, with 21 home runs and 73 RBIs, all top-six figures among major-league back-stops. Contreras, pardon the pun, has caught fire in the second half by hitting .305 with 10 home runs and 32 RBIs in just 34 games since the All-Star break.
"You've got to consider him one of the elite catchers in the National League already," Maddon said. "He's hitting fourth, he's handling a really good pitching staff, he's throwing people out, he's blocking the ball really well and he's hitting homers. ... He's doing everything."
After spending nearly a month on the disabled list with a hamstring injury, Contreras returned on Sept. 10, and the team has gone 8-3 with the battery mate in the lineup.
According to Baseball Reference, Contreras ranks third among all catchers in WAR, just behind the Yankees' Gary Sanchez and Giants' Buster Posey.
The right-handed backstop was named NL Player of the Week for the first week of August, when he hit .455 with five home runs and 13 RBIs over five starts.
"It means a lot to me," Contreras told the Chicago Tribune. "This is my first award in the big leagues besides the World Series. It feels great, it feels amazing. It means a lot to my family. It motivates me to do more, to keep doing more and helping the team."
Contreras signed with the Cubs in 2009 as a 17-year-old free agent. After a batting adjustment following the 2014 season, Contreras batted .333 the following season and captured the Southern League's batting title with Chicago's Double-A affiliate. Prior to being called up last year, Contreras had hit .353 with Triple-A Iowa.
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