Miguel Montero looking to be a leader for young Cubs team


Winning is contagious.

At least, that’s what incoming Chicago Cubs catcher Miguel Montero is hoping for as he prepares for his first season on the North Side of the Windy City. In a recent interview with MLB.com in Mesa, the backstop talked about his struggles last season with the Arizona Diamondbacks, as well as what his goals are for the upcoming season.

The 31-year-old Venezuela native said that the struggles his team went through last season made it hard for him to be ready to play on a daily basis – something that Cubs fans can all too-well relate to after five consecutive losing seasons.

"“It was hard for me to go play when you’re 20 games behind first place and 17 behind the Wild Card, and going to the clubhouse, and they were trying different things every day. It was hard to go out there and play and perform because your mind is not right, your mind is not there anymore."

Last season, Arizona finished at 64-98, the worst mark all of Major League Baseball. This winter, the club dealt Montero to Chicago in exchange for some low-level talent, in the process shedding the remaining three years and $40 million left on his deal.

The trade immediately set off speculation about the Cubs’ situation behind the dish – with last year’s starter Welington Castillo seemingly caught in limbo. That situation only worsened when the club signed Jon Lester‘s former personal catcher in Boston, David Ross, later in the winter.

For now, the team is in camp with the trio of catchers in tow. A trade still seems probable, at the very least – although the market for Castillo seems to have weakened of-late with the emergence of Toronto Blue Jays’ backstop Dioner Navarro as a trade candidate.

After struggling offensively over the past couple of seasons, Montero is ready to put it all together. He caught the third-most games in the National League in 2014, but couldn’t produce at the plate like he had in years’ past. He batted just .243 – although he did hit 13 home runs while driving in 72 runs in the process.

For new manager Joe Maddon, balancing versatility and production with Montero will be key. While he will not be catching each and every game, keeping him in the lineup regularly will be a focus.

"“It won’t be 162,” Maddon said, “but we’ll talk and try to figure out a nice little program to keep him on top of his game and provide that opportunity for other guys to play, too.”"

A notable defensive upgrade over Castillo, Montero has also shown what he is capable of with the bat. A two-time National League All-Star, the left-handed-swinging backstop has received MVP votes on multiple occasions – namely in his 21st-place finish in the 2011 voting after he batted .282/.351/.469 with 18 home runs and 86 RBI for Arizona.

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With expectations sky-high at the Friendly Confines, Montero – and the Cubs – are looking to change how the game is played each and every day. Increased enthusiasm and excitement has already been noted at camp – and with the slugging backstop already working hard at camp, he’s getting ready for what he hopes will be a much different 2015 campaign.

"“I like to win and going to the field knowing there’s a small window or chance to win a ballgame, it was difficult to prepare yourself,” he said. “It was difficult, it was hard. You’d go to the field and it was like, ‘Oh my God, I’ve got to get through the day.'”"

Next: Trade market for Cubs' Castillo appears weak of late