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Willson Contreras: ‘I want to be the best catcher in the game for a long time’

This is sure to rub somebody out there the wrong way. Willson Contreras will come off as cocky, or too big for his polyester britches. He may even be accused of being disrespectful to a pair of opposing players who are catching royalty.

So try to understand this, will you, please? Contreras, the Cubs’ 25-year-old catcher — and, if he’s right about the season to come, their next superstar — was simply being honest when he explained why he no longer studies video of the Cardinals’ Yadier Molina and the Giants’ Buster Posey at work behind the plate.

“I used to watch a lot of those guys,” he said on opening night of the annual Cubs Convention, “but now I’m watching myself because I know that I’m going to be better than them. That’s my plan. That’s my [mindset].”

Better than Molina, an eight-time All-Star and eight-time Gold Glove winner. Better than Posey, a five-time All-Star and former MVP. Better than anybody, is Contreras’ big idea.

Willson Contreras meets the people at Cubs Convention. (AP/Charles Rex Arbogast)

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“I know that I have a lot of talent,” he said, “and I thank God every day for giving me this kind of talent that I have. In my mind, I want to be the best catcher in the game for a long time — like it was with Yadier Molina, like it is with Buster Posey.”

The talent has been undeniable since his first big-league at-bat, in June 2016, when he homered on the first pitch he saw. Still an incredible thing, isn’t it? And who can forget the game-tying pinch single in the ninth inning of Game 4 of that year’s NLCS? Or the pickoff of the Dodgers’ Justin Turner at second base in Game 4 of that year’s NLCS? Or the 491-foot homer off the video board at Wrigley in Game 4 of the 2017 NLCS? Go on, pick a favorite Contreras play if you can. There are many to choose from.

 

Contreras is coming off a sophomore season in which he batted .276 with 21 homers and 74 RBI despite starting only 95 games and missing just over a month with a hamstring injury. One thing he didn’t do is make his All-Star debut. The look in his eye Friday suggested he was about to tear seven months’ worth of pages off the calendar and already scratch that milestone off his list.

“I feel like I’m going to be able to do big things from Day 1,” he said. “I just want to be healthy all year; that’s the main goal. If I’m healthy all year, I’m going to have a great year. Hopefully, this year I can make the All-Star team.”

The man has 30 homers on his mind, and 100 driven in. He wants to catch 120 to 130 games. He wants opponents to throw their best shots at the Cubs all season “because we have one of the greatest teams in MLB.” And he wants 15 years as the man at his position — all with the Cubs, thank you very much — “because that’s the kind of person I am.”

But the best in the league? Is that really within Contreras’ grasp?

“I really do think so,” pitcher Kyle Hendricks said. “He has all the tools. He has every angle covered.”

“Oh, man, are you kidding me?” third baseman Kris Bryant said. “He’s already a star. He’s right up there in that category right now.”

High on Contreras’ list of his own favorite big-league moments: the times Molina and Posey looked him in the eye during games and let him know — no big deal, right? — that they thought he was pretty darn good.

“Awesome, just an awesome feeling,” Contreras said, “especially coming from them. It gives me a lot of motivation to be the best.”

Follow me on Twitter @SLGreenberg.

Email: sgreenberg@suntimes.com