Cubs catcher Miguel Montero knows Willson Contreras is on the fast track


Cubs catcher Miguel Montero knows Willson Contreras is on the fast track

MESA, Ariz. – Miguel Montero understands how this business works, that Willson Contreras is coming for his job and the win-now Cubs are still planning for the future.

“He could be in the big leagues right now,” Montero said Saturday afternoon inside the Sloan Park clubhouse, where the two catchers have side-by-side lockers. 

Less than 24 hours earlier, the Cubs had optioned Contreras to Triple-A Iowa, with manager Joe Maddon saying he could be used as a weapon at some point this season.

The Cubs got a midseason jolt by promoting Kyle Schwarber from the minors when Montero sprained his thumb last summer. Montero went to Double-A Tennessee for his rehab assignment and saw enough of Contreras to know he’s on the fast track now.

[SHOP: Gear up for the 2016 season, Cubs fans!]

“He’s very, very coachable,” Montero said. “The tough part comes (down) to handling a pitching staff on the big-league level. It takes a little bit of time. But the only way to learn is to be in the big leagues. He needs to catch. He needs repetitions.

“It takes time to learn a big-league scouting report.”

All the physical tools are already in place. Maddon says Contreras has the kind of big-league arm that can shut down a running game.

The Cubs didn’t necessarily see this happening when they left Contreras off their 40-man roster last winter and exposed him in the Rule 5 draft. Initially signed as an infielder out of Venezuela in 2009, he hadn’t played above the A-ball level by that point. He went out and won the Southern League batting title with a .333 average.

Montero – who will earn $28 million across the next two seasons – shouldn’t make this an awkward situation.

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Montero remembered how he was treated while coming up with the Arizona Diamondbacks – the good, the bad and the ugly – and kept that in mind while trying to make Schwarber feel comfortable during his crash course last season.

Grandparossy_3  is on Instagram now for the #YearLongRetirementParty, so the Cubs will need a new catcher in 2017 while David Ross is transitioning into the next phase of his life as a coach, broadcaster, front-office guy or stay-at-home dad.     

Montero is a left-hander hitter who will turn 33 this summer. Contreras is a right-handed hitter who will turn 24 in May. The Cubs are already planning for the next generation at Wrigley Field. 

“Honestly, I would love to take him under my wing,” Montero said. “I’m trying to help him every day. It’s hard to throw a young guy to the wolves like that on a good ballclub with a good pitching staff.

“You need to ease his way into it. But there’s no doubt in my mind he’s an everyday guy.” 

Addison Russell is so over 2017: 'That's last year, don't want to talk about that'


Addison Russell is so over 2017: 'That's last year, don't want to talk about that'

MESA, Ariz. — “That’s last year, don’t want to talk about that.”

In other words, Addison Russell is so over 2017.

The Cubs shortstop went through a lot last year. He dealt with injuries that affected his foot and shoulder. He had a well-documented off-the-field issue involving an accusation of domestic abuse, which sparked an investigation by Major League Baseball. And then came the trade speculation.

The hot stove season rarely leaves any player completely out of online trade discussion. But after Theo Epstein admitted there was a possibility the Cubs could trade away one or more young position players to bolster the starting rotation, well, Russell’s name came up.

And he saw it.

“There was a lot of trade talk,” Russell said Saturday. “My initial thoughts were, I hope it doesn’t happen, but wherever I go, I’m going to try to bring what I bring to the table here. It’s a good thing that it doesn’t have to be that way. I’m happy being in a Cubs uniform, I want to be in a Cubs uniform, for sure. But there was some talk out there. If I got traded, then I got traded, but that’s not the case.”

No, it’s not, as the Cubs solved those pitching questions with free-agent spending, bringing in Yu Darvish and Tyler Chatwood to replace the departed Jake Arrieta and John Lackey. It means Russell, along with oft-discussed names like Kyle Schwarber, Ian Happ and Javy Baez, are all still Cubs.

While the outside world might have expected one of those guys to be moved in some sort of blockbuster trade for Chris Archer or some other All-Star arm, the Cubs’ young core remains intact, another reason why they’re as much a favorite to win the World Series as any team out there.

“I’m really not surprised. The core is still here. Who would want to break that up? It’s a beautiful thing,” Russell said. “Javy and I in the middle. Schwarber, sometimes playing catcher but mainly outfield. And then (Kris Bryant) over there in the hot corner, and of course (Anthony) Rizzo at first. You’ve got a Gold Glover in right field (Jason Heyward). It’s really hard to break that up.

“When you do break that down on paper, we’ve got a lineup that could stack up with the best.”

This winter has been about moving on for Russell, who said he’s spent months working to strengthen his foot and shoulder after they limited him to 110 games last season, the fewest he played in his first three big league campaigns.

And so for Russell, the formula for returning to his 2016 levels of offensive aptitude isn’t a difficult one: stay on the field.

“Especially with the injuries, I definitely wanted to showcase some more of my talent last year than I displayed,” Russell said. “So going into this year, it’s mainly just keeping a good mental — just staying level headed. And also staying healthy and producing and being out there on the field.

“Next step for me, really just staying out there on the field. I really want to see what I can do as far as helping the team if I can stay healthy for a full season. I think if I just stay out there on the field, I’m going to produce.”

While the decrease in being on the field meant lower numbers from a “counting” standpoint — the drop from 21 homers in 2016 to 12 last year, the drop from 95 RBIs to 43 can in part be attributed to the lower number of games — certain rate stats looked different, too. His on-base percentage dropped from .321 in 2016 to .304 last year.

Russell also struggled during the postseason, picking up just six hits in 36 plate appearances in series against the Washington Nationals and Los Angeles Dodgers. He struck out 13 times in 10 postseason games.

Of course, he wasn’t alone. That World Series hangover was team-wide throughout the first half of the season. And even though the Cubs scored 824 runs during the regular season, the second most in the National League and the fourth most in baseball, plenty of guys had their offensive struggles: Schwarber, Heyward and Ben Zobrist, to name a few.

“You can’t take anything for granted. So whenever you win a World Series or you do something good, you just have to live in the moment,” Russell said. “It was a tough season last year because we were coming off winning the World Series and the World Series hangover and all that. This year, we had a couple months off, a couple extra weeks off, and I think a lot of guys took advantage of that. I know I did. And now that we’re here in spring training, we’re going to get back at it.”

Cubs Talk Podcast: Discussing 5-man unit and where Montgomery fits into Cubs' plans


Cubs Talk Podcast: Discussing 5-man unit and where Montgomery fits into Cubs' plans

Jon Lester has arrived at Cubs camp, and he’s pleased with the new-look rotation full of potential aces. Kelly Crull and Vinnie Duber discuss the 5-man unit, and where Mike Montgomery fits into the Cubs’ plans.

Plus, Kelly and Vinnie talk Jason Heyward and Kyle Schwarber, along with the continuing free agent stalemate surrounding Jake Arrieta.

Listen to the full Cubs Talk Podcast right here: