There is not a safer profile at the catcher position than Willson Contreras of the Chicago Cubs. He checks every box:
- Age - only 26 years old;
- Consistency - OPS+ of 122 and 119 in each of his only two seasons;
- Production - A 29 HR, 102 RBI, .276 AVG pace in 2017;
- Order in Lineup - projected to bat 4th for the Cubs;
- Protection in lineup - batting behind Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo;
- Park Factor - Above average HR Factor for RHBs at Wrigley Field in 2017;
- Playing Time - Chris Gimenez is Contreras’ only competition at Catcher;
So what more can we say about a young, elite catcher entering his prime? Is there any likelihood of Contreras significantly beating his current value, or perhaps under-achieving it? Let’s take a look at some projections for Contreras to set baseline expectations. Per FanGraphs:
About the same as both of his earlier seasons in the Majors. The Fans, as usual, are probably overly optimistic with Contreras’ projections but I think they represent a nice ceiling. 563 plate appearances was only accomplished by J.T. Realmuto and Buster Posey last year so it would not be wise to rely on that many opportunities. What we can rely on is 20 HRs, 140 R+RBI and a .270 AVG from the weakest position in fantasy baseball.
There may even be some upside here as Contreras really turned it on in second half of last season just prior to and immediately following his quad injury in early August. The sample isn’t large enough to expect the same .300+ AVG and torrid HR rate, but it hints at improvements made to Contreras’ approach and the possibility of more to come as he enters his prime.
While the HR-rate may have been luck-induced with his 37% HR/FB rate, the average and OBP appear to be far more legitimate. Contreras showed a massive improvement from a 0.32 BB/K rate in the first half to 0.85 in the second half. He slashed a .305/.407/.586 line in the second half, and that is with a lower BABIP than he experienced in the first half. The sample is small due to his injury, but the improvements are supported by an improved approach at the plate and leave me optimistic for more development. Keep in mind Contreras only has 711 plate appearances in the Major Leagues and catcher is always a position where the bat lags behind in development. We may not have seen anywhere near the best from Willson Contreras.
Willson Contreras is currently going in the 5th to 6th round of fantasy drafts, and given his Steamer projection of 62 Rs, 19 HRs, 70 RBI, and a .271 AVG - the return is commensurate with the price. Given the high floor and the chance to beat these projections, Contreras is a solid pick if you can get him in the back-end of the 5th round or into the 6th in standard formats.
If you have any questions or comments or just want to chat further about your league, please don’t hesitate to reach out on Twitter @BrianCreagh or via email firstname.lastname@example.org.