There was a play this year that got almost no love at the time, and certainly will not be getting any after-the-season-hype love, especially in a year that featured so many defensive gems from the best defensive team in baseball.
It came in a blowout win in Colorado, which featured Kris Bryant hitting the Cubs’ longest homer of the year. Those factors may have obscured the play somewhat. But even in the blowout, the star of the play in question had three hits and drove in three runs. He was all over the place in the game.
OK. Enough throat-clearing. The play was an otherwise nondescript strikeout by Trevor Cahill, which featured a nasty knuckle curve that bounced hard off the dirt, and then high off of Miguel Montero’s glove. It was going to be one of those annoying strike-out-but-the-batter-reaches situations. Except Montero turned into Javy Baez for a few seconds and did this:
Montero has to find that ball high in the air with his mask on, while turning his back on the field. Then he has to extend his arm to make the grab, and turn and throw in one continuous motion while he’s running away from the field. That’s one of those plays that a guy just has no business making, and Montero pulled it off.
I think you can see in Anthony Rizzo’s reaction as he looks back to see Montero that even he was a little wowed by that one. Just an incredible all around play, and it stuck with me the rest of the year as one of the best defensive plays of the season, even if it wasn’t hyped.
All in all, it was a tough year for Montero, who was not at his defensive peak all year, possibly due to lingering back issues, and who hit only .216/.327/.357 on the season. But the defense was adequate overall, the pitch-framing was elite, and Montero was disproportionately involved in big moments for the Cubs all year (including, of course, his huge grand slam in the NLCS, and his they-don’t-win-without-that-run RBI in the 10th inning of Game Seven of the World Series).
Heading into 2017, Montero projects to be the Cubs’ back-up catcher, behind Willson Contreras, though I’d expect we see him a bit more than a typical “back-up” catcher. The receiving skills are too good, he bats lefty, and Contreras is still developing behind the plate. Viewed in that way, the Cubs are fortunate to have Montero in place for another competitive year.