The Chicago Cubs completely revamped their catcher position this offseason. First, by trading for Miguel Montero to be their starting catcher, and then by signing 13-year MLB veteran David Ross to a two-year, $5 million contract.
Ross is a career .233/.318/.435 hitter. While he does not give you much offensively, Ross makes up for that with steady defensive skills and great veteran leadership.
The Cubs have yet to trade incumbent catcher Welington Castillo, so Ross’ role early on in the 2015 season is hard to predict. If the Cubs cannot get proper value in exchange for Castillo, they appear willing to head into 2015 carrying three catchers on their 25-man roster. Carrying three catchers seems unlikely, but if this happens, Montero as the starter, and Castillo as the Cubs try to showcase his value, figures to get some playing time–leaving little for Ross.
Ross is commonly considered to be one of the best framing catchers in all of baseball. Basically, he is very good at getting strike calls that aren’t really strikes. Montero is also highly regarded to be very good at pitch framing, while Castillo is considered to be very poor at this skill. Cubs’ pitchers could automatically be a touch better this season, simply by the improved pitch framing skills of their catchers.
When the Cubs landed free agent LHP Jon Lester this offseason, it seemed likely that his personal catcher in Ross would not be far behind. While the duo is adamant that they did not come as a package deal, Ross has been Lester’s personal catcher with the Boston Red Sox for the past couple of seasons, and the two clearly have a strong rapport together.
“You hit it off with some guys,” Ross told Patrick Mooney of CSN Chicago. “We got a good rapport and we talk a lot, Ross continued. “I don’t think I do anything special for (Lester). He trusts me. I built that trust and sometimes that’s a big deal.”
Lester appeared to agree. “We just work well together,” Lester told Mooney. “For some reason, (Ross) and I are on the same page. He knows when to come out there and get on me a little bit. And he knows when to kind of pull back and let me get on cruise control.”
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The Cubs clearly want to make Lester feel as comfortable as possible after signing him to a six-year contract worth $155 million. More than anything, that is Ross’ role on the Cubs this season. While he may not catch every single game of Lester’s, Ross is likely to catch most of them, and he is here to make sure that Lester feels comfortable.
When, and if the Cubs are able to trade Castillo, Ross will likely see some work with other starting pitchers when the Cubs are facing a tough left-handed pitcher. Unless Lester is on the mound, the left-handed hitting Montero will very likely start against right-handed pitching, but against tough lefties, Ross will likely get the call.
Ross has an opportunity to help the Cubs go far this season. His rapport with Lester is obviously huge for the team going forward, but his defensive skill-set will come in handy regardless who is on the mound. Not to mention, Ross is a great teammate with impressive veteran leadership skills. That is massive plus for the Cubs, who will have a very young team throughout the 2015 season. Any veteran leadership is welcomed in the Cubs’ clubhouse, and Ross is top-notch in that department.
The Cubs drastically improved their pitch framing skills behind the plate this offseason, and their pitchers should greatly benefit from that. Ross is a major part of that, and will be an important part of the Cubs’ success in 2015.