By Bruce Levine-
MESA, Ariz. (CBS) -- With the Cubs acquiring two catchers in the offseason, a message was made clear.
In the minds of the front office, winning and solid pitching all begins with the guys behind the plate.
The Cubs traded for Miguel Montero and signed free agent David Ross, giving them field generals at arguably the most demanding and critical position on the field. Montero was a leader in Arizona tenure and even admitted he may have put too much pressure on himself to carry a disappointing team that failed at almost every level in 2014, costing both the general manager and manager their jobs.
"Maybe I did push things a little bit," Montero said. "I have very high expectations of myself. Sometimes you have disappointments knowing you and your team are better than that. When things don't go your way, it gets tough, but you always need to play with high energy and enjoy the work. We went through a tough year, and looking back at times, I might have tried a little too hard. That is over, and I just look forward to helping the Cubs."
Montero was traded to the Cubs in December for two Class-A players in an obvious salary dump by the Diamondbacks. Set to turn 32 this summer, Montero is still owed $40 million over the next three seasons. He's coming off of two disappointing seasons after having a career year in 2012, when he hit .286 with 15 homers and 88 RBIs. Montero hit .230 with 11 homers and 42 RBIs in 2013, then batted .243 with 13 homers and 72 RBIs last season.
A focus for Montero this spring has been preparing to handle evolving young pitchers.
"This certainly takes a little time to know all these guys," Montero said. "I am a good listener, so we talk to the pitchers and see what they like to do and go from that point. This does not happen overnight. It takes preparation and building of trust. We spend more time after the pitcher is done getting to work on adjustments going forward."
Montero has heard about his ability to frame pitches and how that's the mantra of this front office as far as getting an edge on the opposition, but he bristles at that being the essence for success in the pitcher-catcher relationship.
"We as an industry are getting to the point where we are not looking at the talent," Montero said. "We are just looking at numbers. For me, we have to look at execution of pitches by the pitcher. I can frame pitches all day long, but the pitcher must execute that pitch. It does no good if I set up outside and he throws a fastball down the middle of the plate. I believe in the numbers and scouting reports, but at the end of the day it is about the execution. We don't call for a hanging breaking ball or fastball out of the zone."
Finding joy of the game is an important aspect for Montero, and that's why he's excited to start a new chapter with the Cubs.
"We get lost sometimes in the hard work we put in," Montero said. " What we loved about baseball is the fun and good results from the work we put into it. Sometimes we lose track of that. We understand it is a business and our job. This is a game, man, and we must try to enjoy it more. If we do that, we will have better results."
Montero would love to catch every day, he said. When informed the major league record is 160 games caught by Randy Hundley in 1968, Montero responded, "That won t happen in this era."
"We have plenty of other good players to support us on this team," he added.
Montero played in 140 games in 2011 and 141 games in 2012. An ideal number with Ross and Welington Castillo still around should be 125 games behind the plate for Montero.
Bruce Levine covers the Cubs and White Sox for 670 The Score and CBSChicago.com. Follow him on Twitter @MLBBruceLevine.
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