Willson Contreras is hitting as if 2018 had never happened.
He arrived at the camp this spring determined to bounce, wearing a shirt that said "Do not believe me, just look."He admitted that he was pleased last season and left the routine and work ethic that had led him to the big leagues, and promised to avoid this type of similar mistakes this year.
He spoke the talk and is now walking the path.
Contreras had already had a solid start even before he hit a pair of measured homers at 903 combined feet during the 5-1 victory on Friday afternoon. A wind of 19 miles per hour helped feed the Waveland ballhawks, but make no mistake: Contreras hit both.
Come relax on Waveland Ave. AND YOU WILL LIKELY UNDERSTAND WILLSON CONTRERAS HR!
Transmit here: https://t.co/86W59JAeWa pic.twitter.com/NL66gVUiGh
– Puppy talk (@NBCSCubs) April 12, 2019
That gives him 5 home runs in the young season, which is already half the total he accumulated a year ago (10) and places the Cubs catcher ahead of everyone else in the National League.
He became the Cubs' first catcher with 5 homers in the team's first 13 games since Gabby Hartnett did the trick in 1934 (by Chris Kamka).
Contreras left the yard more on Friday afternoon than in the last two months of 2018: 1 homer in 45 games (142 at-bats).
This is what everyone expected as a replay of his 2017 campaign, when he crushed 21 homers and drove in 74 runs despite missing a month with a thigh injury.
"He looks a lot more like when he was really hot in the second half of the 17th when he got hurt, it looks exactly like that," Joe Maddon said. "… He had a chance of 100 RBIs, probably 25 homers and everything went with an injury." Physically / mechanically, it seems he did then.
"It's a remnant of spring training, I'm watching him closely: he's doing the same things now that he did in camp and he's doing the same things in the camp he did a couple of years ago."
What are those things? What is the difference between the Contreras that we are seeing at this moment and the 2018 version?
"I'm much more focused this year than last year," he said earlier this week. "This year, I'm very calm, I let it happen and I just play and have fun, that will be the big key for me."
"It's more mental, to be in the big leagues, you have to have the tools and the talent, obviously, I have it, but I've been working more on the mental game and I think it's paying off."
Contreras spoke about his desire to have fun on the field again in his heartfelt conversation with Kelly Crull of NBC Sports Chicago in spring training.
Actually, even beyond the "fun" aspect and keeping things loose, it's simply a matter of avoiding Contreras' complacency.
"You learn a lot, especially when you feel like you've failed like I did last year," he said. "For me, it was not a bad year, but the second half was not what I wanted, I think I felt very complacent with myself and that's something I learned: I have to keep going, keep working and move forward.
"You just learn a lot from a year like the one I had last year, that will be in 2018. Now we're working in 2019 and so far, I feel pretty good."
With all the talk about how the Cubs' offense "broke" the final stretch of last season, Contreras was a central figure in those discussions.
Now it's back to the way it was before 2018 and it's coming at an important time for this Cubs offense when they're not seeing the heart of the order (Kris Bryant-Anthony Rizzo-Javy Baez) putting their standard production through the first 13 games.
"This guy is, physical talents, the best receiver in the National League," said Maddon. "He made the All-Star team last year, then the second half was not so good, I'm not saying he can continue like that, but what we're seeing right now, he's very capable of making the whole team." Season – something along these lines. "
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