The Cubs went into 2016 planning to use a three headed monster at catcher again. Miguel Montero, David Ross and Kyle Schwarber were expected to share the position with Schwarber set to learn how to frame pitches and call games from some of the best in the business. However, a knee injury suffered by Schwarber in the third game of the season ended his year and upended the front office’s plans.
However, like the year prior, the Cubs called on a young catching prospect in Willson Contreras when some depth was needed and he lived up to his expectations and became a big part of the Cubs future moving forward. Contreras helped the Cubs catchers post their best overall numbers since 2013 with a .239/.339/.425 slash line with 22 doubles, two triples, 26 home runs, 90 RBI and one stolen base.
Contreras played in 76 total games, with 48 of them at catcher, but he was far and away the best bat behind the dish of the four who started a game there. In 158 at bats, he smashed a .291/.365/.525 line with eight doubles, one triple, nine home runs and 26 RBI. The strong overall numbers had Contreras thrust into the middle of the order as a rookie and he handled it with aplomb batting a solid .275 with RISP.
Like Schwarber, the knock on Contreras was if he was experienced enough to handle a pitching staff having just converted to the position in 2012, but he held his own with a staff full of veterans and amassing a 4.04 ERA and placing in the top 25 in pitch framing according to Statcorner. His real weapon on defense was his rocket arm, which helped him throw out runners at a 37% clip. It gained him more time as the season wore on and even earned him starts catching for Jon Lester and Jake Arrieta. Contreras likely will begin the season as the Cubs number one catcher and is poised to become one of top young backstops in the game.
Contreras’ debut was probably the most intriguing story at catcher, but by far its biggest was David Ross’ final season. The retirement party for “Grandpa Rossy” spawned its own Instagram account and turned him into a local celebrity. He achieved some milestones in his final season as well. On April 21, he caught his first no-hitter and Jake Arrieta’s second. On May 27, he hit the 100th homerun of his career receiving a standing ovation from the Wrigley faithful. On November 2, in the final game of his career, Ross hit a solo homerun making him the oldest player to do so in Game 7 of the World Series.
In addition to those personal milestones, David Ross had one of his better seasons. His overall line of .229/.338/.446 with a .784 OPS was the fifth highest in his career. His 10 homeruns was only the fourth time he’s hit double digits and the first time he had done so in nine years. Pitchers managed a miniscule 2.39 ERA throwing to him, he threw out 27% of base stealers in the regular season and placed 10th in pitch framing.
While Ross had a renaissance season, Miguel Montero probably had his worst yet, in 86 games, he hit a pitiful .216/.327/.357 with eight doubles, one triple, eight home runs, 33 RBI and one stolen base. Despite the poor numbers, Montero made his bones in the clutch and collected 26 of his RBI with RISP. This was on display in the playoffs when Montero broke up a tie with a pinch hit Grand Slam in Game 1 of the NLCS and in the 10th inning of Game 7 of the World Series drove in a run that proved to be the decisive run to help the Cubs win the game.
Montero expressed frustration about losing time to Contreras and Ross after the series, but with $14 million owed to him next year, it’s likely he won’t be going anywhere. The front office will hope Montero can be a steadying influence on defense to Contreras and take a role similar to David Ross for the young catcher. Montero finished third in pitch framing and his game calling netted him a 3.18 ERA and a spot as Arrieta’s personal catcher. His arm is an absolute liability at this point as he threw out just 11% of base stealers.
If the Cubs front office can find a taker for Montero which while a longshot, could be a possibility thanks to weak free agent catching market, Tim Federowicz could take his place as the backup if the Cubs were to re-sign the veteran catcher. He played in 17 games for the team last season and batted a weak .194/.212/.258 with two doubles and three RBI. Federowicz has never been much of a hitter as evidenced by his career .194 batting average. His strength has always been defense and he owns a career 35% caught stealing rate and 3.50 ERA. He was outrighted to Triple-A after the season and elected free agency.
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