Levine: Is Willson Contreras Catching Jake Arrieta A Sign Of What's To Come For Cubs?
By Bruce Levine--
(CBS) The Cubs' decision to have rookie Willson Contreras catch right-hander Jake Arrieta on Thursday afternoon may be a one-game experiment or a foreshadowing of the plan and playoff roster in October. With the exception of two times when he was on the disabled list, Miguel Montero had caught all of Arrieta's starts this season.
This change has more to do with the ascension of the 24-year-old Contreras as an evolving defender and impact hitter than Montero's poor play. It also gives the Cubs more information to weigh as they consider their best playoff roster come fall.
Going forward, Cubs management and the coach staff want Contreras to handle all of the pitchers in the rotation in preparation for the playoffs. Previously, his starts at catcher had come with Jason Hammel, Kyle Hendricks and John Lackey on the mound.
During postseason, the choice of Cubs pitchers having a personal catcher -- as Arrieta has with Montero and Jon Lester does with David Ross -- will being limited. The idea of the Cubs carrying three catchers in the playoffs seems remote.
The 33-year-old Montero is still considered a top pitch framer and game tactician behind the plate, but his offensive struggles and opponents' success in stealing bases off him may dictate leaving him off of the playoff roster. Entering play Thursday, Montero was hitting .187 with just 11 extra-base hits and 21 RBIs in 218 plate appearances, and he was only 3-of-50 in throwing out base stealers.
Manager Joe Maddon had a talk with Montero on Wednesday about his changing role.
"I wanted Willson an opportunity (to catch Arrieta), so I will get Miggy in there with someone else over the next couple of days," Maddon said. "Moving forward, we thought it would be a good idea to get it done now. Everybody is on board. So we will take a test drive and see what it looks like."
Montero was on the DL last season for three weeks. Despite that time missed, he has been the primary catcher for Arrieta throughout the pitcher's historic run to end last season and continued early on this year.
Montero is under contract for one more season at $14 million in 2017.
"I just had a great conversation with him," Maddon said. "I have been so impressed with him. He has bee a mentor to these guys. He understands what we are doing and why we are doing it. He is a positive force on the bench every day. He is obviously not happy with the season he has had so far. He is very happy with what we are doing (as a team).
"My perception and view of him have become nothing but greater and greater in a positive way. I told him that yesterday. It would be easy for a guy who has had the success he has had to be a little sarcastic or negative in his approach. He has been the exact opposite. He still is going to play. Moving forward, I know the rest is doing him some good for the later part of the season. He is in the right frame of mind. I give him all the credit in the world."
Contreras has improved his catching by leaps and bounds throughout the season. He has helped limit the running game for other clubs, as he's 5-of-15 in throwing out base stealers.
Contreras is hitting .266 with seven homers, 24 RBIs and a .798 OPS in 192 plate appearances. He's also played the outfield and first base a little bit.
Bruce Levine covers the Cubs and White Sox for 670 The Score and CBSChicago.com. Follow him on Twitter @MLBBruceLevine.
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