MESA, Ariz. – Miguel Montero understands how this business works, that Willson Contreras is coming for his job and the win-now Cubs are still planning for the future.
“He could be in the big leagues right now,” Montero said Saturday afternoon inside the Sloan Park clubhouse, where the two catchers have side-by-side lockers.
Less than 24 hours earlier, the Cubs had optioned Contreras to Triple-A Iowa, with manager Joe Maddon saying he could be used as a weapon at some point this season.
The Cubs got a midseason jolt by promoting Kyle Schwarber from the minors when Montero sprained his thumb last summer. Montero went to Double-A Tennessee for his rehab assignment and saw enough of Contreras to know he’s on the fast track now.
“He’s very, very coachable,” Montero said. “The tough part comes (down) to handling a pitching staff on the big-league level. It takes a little bit of time. But the only way to learn is to be in the big leagues. He needs to catch. He needs repetitions.
“It takes time to learn a big-league scouting report.”
All the physical tools are already in place. Maddon says Contreras has the kind of big-league arm that can shut down a running game.
The Cubs didn’t necessarily see this happening when they left Contreras off their 40-man roster last winter and exposed him in the Rule 5 draft. Initially signed as an infielder out of Venezuela in 2009, he hadn’t played above the A-ball level by that point. He went out and won the Southern League batting title with a .333 average.
Montero – who will earn $28 million across the next two seasons – shouldn’t make this an awkward situation.
Montero remembered how he was treated while coming up with the Arizona Diamondbacks – the good, the bad and the ugly – and kept that in mind while trying to make Schwarber feel comfortable during his crash course last season.
Grandparossy_3 is on Instagram now for the #YearLongRetirementParty, so the Cubs will need a new catcher in 2017 while David Ross is transitioning into the next phase of his life as a coach, broadcaster, front-office guy or stay-at-home dad.
Montero is a left-hander hitter who will turn 33 this summer. Contreras is a right-handed hitter who will turn 24 in May. The Cubs are already planning for the next generation at Wrigley Field.
“Honestly, I would love to take him under my wing,” Montero said. “I’m trying to help him every day. It’s hard to throw a young guy to the wolves like that on a good ballclub with a good pitching staff.
“You need to ease his way into it. But there’s no doubt in my mind he’s an everyday guy.”