Joe Maddon is nothing if not full of surprises, and he had another up the sleeve of his “Try Not To Suck” t-shirt Thursday. With Anthony Rizzo resting a tight back, Maddon asked Willson Contreras to respect 90 and hustle down to first base for the evening. But was that really a surprise? Contreras was, after all, a corner infielder in the minors before moving behind the plate a few years back. And with David Ross caddying for Jon Lester, the Cubs needed a way to keep all their hot bats in the lineup.
“The way we’re going with the injuries that we’ve had, to get a young guy coming up swinging the bat well, [we need] to try to fit [Contreras] in and then make sure the other guys catch, too,” Maddon explained Thursday “If we could get him in another position, it could free a lot of things up and help us.”
Another position, eh? Unless I’m mistaken, that sounds…
“Almost like the program Schwarber was on, minus the first base,” Maddon confirmed.
For those of you between-the-lines readers, he’s talking about getting the rookie a little run in the outfield. That concept shouldn’t be new to loyal Cubs Insider patrons, who no doubt read about the likelihood of such a plan just last week. For those of you who either didn’t catch it the first time around for one reason or another, here’s some of what I had to say about how the Cubs would deploy Contreras:
…it seems likely that Joe Maddon will need to move his newest weapon around the diamond a little bit in order to get him the at-bats he deserves. While Contreras’s future is behind the plate, the Cubs didn’t make this move to have him ride the pine and pick up framing skills through osmosis. I think they learned a little something from the way they handled Schwarber’s promotions and we’re probably going to see that in the way they handle Contreras.
Though he hasn’t played in the outfield since logging a single inning in left during a Venezuelan Winter League game in 2015, Contreras is athletic enough to make the transition with relative ease.
Just as Schwarber came up and forced the Cubs to find room for him on the roster last year, Contreras appears ready to do more of the same. I think we’ll see him eased in early on, getting some time behind the plate and then maybe picking up some innings at the corner spots. If there’s one thing we’ve learned from Joe Maddon during his time in Chicago, it’s that he’s not afraid to do whatever he has to in order to field the best possible lineup.
After learning from the Schwarber experiment last year, that probably means being a little less tentative with Contreras, who’s also almost two years older than War Bear was when he debuted.
Huh, it looks an awful lot to me like this blind dog done found himself a bone for once.
I don’t know about you, but I sure had a lot of fun watching Contreras turn in a really solid performance over at first despite having only played there 21 times in his minor-league tenure. Just look at the presence of mind he displayed in tagging Chris Johnson after fielding an errant throw from Javy Baez (who had an absolutely mind-blowing play of his own later in the game). Combine that with Grandpa Rossy’s repeated feats of old-man strength and you’ve got appointment television.
I love the idea of Contreras getting as much time as possible all over the field before he settles back in behind the plate for the foreseeable future.