Since making his MLB debut in 2016, Willson Contreras has established himself as one of the best catchers in baseball.
Contreras, 28, is one of the most athletic backstops in the game. He has a big arm behind the plate to control opposing runners. He has strong rapport with the Cubs pitching staff. His offensive abilities have always been a strength, and he's a key figure in the Cubs' lineup.
One component of Contreras' game that has drawn scrutiny in the past is his pitch framing. That is, until last season, when the two-time All-Star starter was nominated for a National League Gold Glove Award, in part due to his improvement in that area.
MORE: Film study: Framing raised Contreras into Gold Glove contention
"It made me feel good because the year before everybody questioned me," Contreras said over Zoom on Saturday. "'Can you frame a pitch?' I was like, 'Yeah, of course.'"
Contreras has steadily improved his framing since 2018, when he ranked 55th among qualified catchers in Statcast's framing rankings. He was 45th in 2019 and made a significant jump last season, when he ranked 11th.
David Ross is now Contreras' manager, but he was teammates with him in 2016, Contreras' rookie season. He's seen Contreras' hard work up close and maturation as a player.
"I think he's grown a lot mentally, physically, emotionally, and continues to do so," Ross said. "He's a very hard worker and a guy that continues to want to be great and be the best version of him every time he steps foot on the field."
For Contreras, seeing that work pay off is a rewarding sight.
"Last year, I put my focus on it and you saw what I was able to do with the pitch framing," he said. "[My improvement] makes me feel good."
And regarding any potential naysayers?
Said Contreras: "Now what are they going to say [about my game]?"