MESA, Ariz. -- Sometimes he’s forgotten in a loaded Chicago Cubs lineup, but catcher Miguel Montero is an integral part of the team if for no other reason than he’ll be tasked with backstopping a pitching staff favored to win the division. He won’t catch Jon Lester -- that’s David Ross' job. But he will be catching a staff ranging from Cy Young winner Jake Arrieta to No. 5 starter Kyle Hendricks, making Montero’s job a big one. He’ll be counted on for defense first and foremost. What he brings with his bat will be gravy.
“Overall it was a good year defensively other than throwing errors,” Montero said from Cubs camp. “I’m not afraid of throwing errors. And there is a combination of your middle infielders helping you out.”
There were mixed reviews of Montero in Year 1 with the Cubs, as his pitch framing was among the best but there were other facets of his game behind the plate that left fans scratching their heads. He had a career-low caught-stealing-percentage (20 percent) to go along with 13 errors -- and some frustrating missed blocks on pitches in the dirt. He says he wants to show more consistency this time around, starting with his defense behind the plate.
“There are blocks I should have made, but there are pitches you can’t do anything about,” he said. “It wasn’t that bad. I looked at my blocking percentages from last year compared to years before, it was a plus for me. It was more than the league average.”
The most famous missed block came in Game 3 of the NLCS with Trevor Cahill on the mound and the lead run on third base for the New York Mets. Cahill threw five straight curveballs to rookie Michael Conforto with the last four hitting dirt in front of the plate. Conforto swung at pitch five, but the ball got by Montero allowing the go-ahead run to score.
“I have no regrets,” Montero said of calling the pitches. “He (Conforto) was missing them. It’s part of the game. You can’t block every single ball.”
And the throwing errors throughout the season were not all his fault. Starlin Castro isn’t known as a great defender around second base so he didn’t prevent as many miscues as he could have, while Jake Arrieta wasn’t all that much better at holding runners on than Jon Lester was. Still, base runners swiped 12 of 15 at third base off of Montero. That’s the most in his career while playing fewer games.
“It hurts but I’m not going to sweat it,” Montero said.
Montero is hoping for more consistency with playing time as well. He would like to face more left-handers after getting just 47 at-bats against them last year. He hit .234 but with a respectable .339 on-base percentage and three home runs.
“I don’t care who I’m facing as long as I see them now and again. Of course I want to play against lefties.”
Montero also experienced some frustration at the beginning of 2015 as the Cubs were carrying three catcher-only players until mid-May, when Welington Castillo was traded. He wasn’t used to the uncertainty regarding playing time. Plus, Ross came in to be Lester’s personal catcher. It took some getting used to in terms of preparation for Montero. In the end, Year 2 for the Cubs catcher might be better simply because he knows what’s coming and how he might be used.
“I’ll have a better idea this time,” he said. “It was hard to understand because I didn’t know what was going on. I know what to expect a little bit more.”