Cubs’ Miguel Montero ‘looking as good as he has here maybe ever’

MESA, Ariz. – Cubs manager Joe Maddon sounded as impressed with catcher Miguel Montero as anyone in camp this spring.

But when it comes to the two-time All-Star’s role in 2017, don’t mistake the praise for a chance to return to a starting job.

“You’ve got a rested Miggy right now, and he’s accepted this role,” Maddon said Tuesday, “but right now he’s looking as good to me as he has here maybe ever.”

Maddon said he likes how Montero, 33, is moving this spring and even likes his improved throwing.

Miguel Montero

But that’s not going to increase the one or two games a week the Cubs expect him to start.

“Willson [Contreras] is the guy, and Miggy knows that,” Maddon said of the second-year catcher. I don’t want to just alter plans. Maybe part of the reason why Miggy’s showing so well is because of the schedule he’s on. So you don’t want to alter that right now.”

Montero, a career starter, was acquired from the Diamondbacks in a trade before the 2015 season and quickly became the primary part of a three-catcher rotation. He slumped out of the starting picture last season.

“Let’s just keep moving this thing forward, and if you’ve got Miggy being in good shape and rested, combined with Contreras, that’s pretty darn good,” Maddon said. “And I’ll catch him with anybody, except Jon Lester.

“Miggy’s been fabulous,” he added. “It’s fitting together nicely, those pieces in the puzzle are fitting together really nicely right now.

Ground game

One of the biggest reasons the Cubs considered left-hander Brett Anderson a fit when they pursued him in free agency was the same thing Anderson saw in choosing the Cubs: the best group of fielders in baseball, especially when Javy Baez joins the infield.

“He puts the ball on the ground; we can catch the ball on the ground,” Maddon said. “It’s a very exciting matchup. He plays right into our team in a way.”

Tuesday’s start didn’t exemplify the point, with third baseman Kris Bryant committing an error, second baseman Ben Zobrist having a single carom off his glove and Anderson giving up another single on a ball that caromed off his backside.

But Anderson induces close to 60 percent of his contact allowed on the ground, and Tuesday notwithstanding, he likes his chances to put up numbers at the back of the Cubs’ rotation.

“If it’s hit at somebody, more times than not it’s going to be an out,” he said. “And even if it’s not, the range on the infield is tremendous across the board.”

Just one more reason for Maddon’s “D-peat” T-shirts this spring.

“The most obvious thing this whole camp is us playing defense the same being our key to success getting back,” Maddon said. “That’s the separator right now.”

Need for speed?

A visit by Daytona 500 winner Kurt Busch and the Daytona trophy Tuesday didn’t translate to any more speed on the bases — Addison Russell and Jason Heyward were thrown out on steal attempts.

They settled for comparing notes with the stock-car champ.

“When you talk to him [about racing 200 mph], it’s like us driving down [highway] 202. It’s no more stressful than that,” Maddon said. “And then he talks about getting in the batter’s box and having to avoid a fastball. I guess it’s all relative.”