The Chicago Cubs announced on Monday that Tennessee Smokies catcher Willson Contreras and starting pitcher Ryan Williams have been named the organization's top Minor League Player and Pitcher of the Year, respectively. Contreras and Williams will be honored during an on-field ceremony at Wrigley Field on Monday, September 28, prior to the Cubs' matchup against the Kansas City Royals at 8:05 p.m. ET.
Contreras became the first Smokies player in 37 years to win the Southern League batting title after compiling a .333 average (151-454), adding 71 runs, 34 doubles, four triples, eight homers and 75 RBI, clinching the title by recording four hits in as many at bats in his final game of the year. The Venezuela native was also just the fourth backstop in the league's modern era to pace the circuit in batting average, and first since Angel Salome in 2008, and completed his breakout 2015 campaign by ranking second in the league in RBI (75), doubles (34) and on-base percentage (.413), as well as third in hits (151) and slugging percentage (.478) and fifth in extra-base hits (46) and total bases (217).
The right-hander hitter this year tallied at least one hit in 92 of his 126 contests played, while also accumulating the fourth-lowest total plate appearances per strikeout ratio in the circuit (8.40). The backstop also earned Southern League-Midseason and Post-Season All-Star nods, becoming the first Smokies catcher to be awarded a post-season honor since Robinson Chirinos in 2011. The 23-year-old was also named the league's Player of the Week between July 27-August 3, a span in which Contreras began a season-high 14-game hit streak that lasted from July 28-August 9.
Contreras is currently rated the fifth-best catching prospect by MLBPipeline.com, in addition to the tenth-best farmhand in the Chicago Cubs' organization. The Venezuela native was signed by the Cubs as a non-drafted free agent in December 2009 and has accumulated a .275 batting average (488-1773), adding 260 runs, 83 doubles, 20 triples, 35 homers and 256 RBI in 495 career contests.
Williams between the Smokies and Low-A South Bend posted a 14-3 record and 2.16 ERA (34 ER in 141.2 IP) in 26 games (24 starts), along with 98 strikeouts compared to just 18 walks. The right-hander finished the 2015 campaign by leading all Cubs minor league hurlers in victories (14) and earned-run average (2.16), as well as ranking fifth in strikeouts (98).
Over his 17 outings with Tennessee, including 16 starts, the California native recorded a 10-2 clip and 2.76 ERA (27 ER in 88.0 IP), adding nine quality starts. From the time Williams made his Double-A debut on June 3 at Chattanooga through the end of the season, the righty ranked tied for first in WHIP (1.01), second in wins, sixth in earned-run average and seventh in batting average against (.227).
In addition, Williams led all full-season minor league hurlers in WHIP (0.90), while also ranking tied for seventh in earned-run average tied for ninth in wins among that company. The 23-year-old was selected by the Cubs in the tenth round of the 2014 MLB Draft out of East Carolina University, posting a 16-4 record and 2.03 ERA (38 ER in 168.1 IP) in 37 career appearances, including 24 starts.
Contreras and Williams are the 12th and 13th Smokies players to be recognized by the Cubs with a yearly honor since the Smokies began their affiliation with Chicago in 2007, and are also the first Smokies duo to win Cubs Minor League Player and Pitcher of the Year in the same season since the 2013 campaign, when infielder Javier Baez and right-hander Kyle Hendricks. Infielder Kris Bryant also was honored as Cubs Minor League Player of the Year after spending the first half of the 2014 season with the Smokies.
The Smokies will commence their 2016 campaign at home against the Mobile BayBears on Thursday, April 7, 2016. The full schedule for next season and season ticket information can be found online at smokiesbaseball.com, or by calling the Smokies Ticket Office at 865-286-2300.