Willson Contreras had somewhat of a down year in 2018. His slugging percentage was down over 100 points from his 2017 season, which at the time looked like it might be a breakout year.
Contreras, who turns 27 in May, looks like he wants to make up for lost time. He hit his second home run of the spring — a ball that cleared the left-field berm at Surprise, a very, very long blast:
In the first inning, he threw out Delino DeShields trying to steal:
That’s the Contreras we knew and grew to love in 2016 and 2017. If he can return to that level in 2019, that’s yet another real boost to an offense that struggled mightily at times last year.
And the homer was off Jesse Chavez, who looked so good for two months with the Cubs last August and September. I surely wish Chavez well, but I don’t think he’ll be quite that good in Texas.
The Cubs won the game 9-5 over the Rangers, and got a decent two innings out of Cole Hamels. He allowed two hits but no runs; some of the outs were hard-hit, but that’s not uncommon for many starting pitchers in their first outing of the spring. A lot of guys like to throw nothing but fastballs in their first outing, hitters know it, so there’s a fair amount of hard contact.
The other really good news from this game was the return to action of David Bote, just three days after a scary-looking HBP by Madison Bumgarner (who, to his credit, said he was sorry and checked in on Bote a couple of times). Bote didn’t suffer a concussion, was cleared to play, and went 2-for-3.
There was also some good work from Cubs minor-league relievers who might figure into the bullpen mix during 2019.
Dillon Maples threw a 1-2-3 inning with two strikeouts, though against Rangers minor leaguers. Dakota Mekkes also threw a scoreless frame. I think both of these guys will be on the Iowa Shuttle this year. Mekkes, in particular, could be a real dark horse to be a significant contributor this year.
Matt Davidson homered off Oscar De La Cruz in the ninth to make the final score a bit closer.
So, all around, this was a good day for our favorite team. They hit, they fielded, they pitched well, and no one got hurt. It wasn’t seen by too many people (and I didn’t make the drive to the West Valley), just 4,782, and it sounded like majority Cubs fans at Surprise Stadium.
Thursday, the Cubs return to Sloan Park to face the Athletics. Kyle Hendricks will make his spring debut, and our old friend Brett Anderson goes for the A’s. Game time is 2:05 p.m. CT, and again coverage Thursday will be via cubs.com.