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A Few Thoughts About Cubs Catchers In 2017

Willson Contreras is the clear No. 1 catcher... but there’s more to it than this.

Rick Scuteri-USA TODAY Sports

SCOTTSDALE, ArizonaCubs catching will be different this year.

There is no doubt the Cubs will miss David Ross’ leadership in the clubhouse and dugout, but beyond that Ross was very good defensively in 2016. Ross caught 18 of 67 base stealers last year, 26.9 percent of all who attempted to steal while he was in the game. That was ninth-best among all catchers with that many attempts.

Willson Contreras was even better, in fewer attempts. He threw out 13 of 35, 37.1 percent.

So that part of the catching game is in good hands. We have learned in recent days that Contreras will become Jon Lester’s personal catcher this season, as well as catching the majority of games. It hasn’t specifically been stated yet, but I would assume Miguel Montero will catch Jake Arrieta, as Jake expressed a preference for Miggy last year and the two seem to work together well.

That would give Montero at least 30 starts, which seems about right. Perhaps he catches a few other games just to give Contreras a break.

Then there’s Kyle Schwarber, who will primarily be the Cubs’ left fielder this year. But Schwarber has worked hard to try to return to catching, his original position, and did some bullpen work on Friday:

Schwarber caught [John] Lackey’s bullpen session, receiving a hug from the Cubs right-hander before they started. Schwarber missed nearly all of last season, tearing two ligaments in his left knee in the third game, and he is projected to play left field most of this year. He was cleared medically to catch one or two days a week in Spring Training, and during his session with Lackey, Schwarber extended his left leg out while squatting to catch the ball to avoid putting extra stress on the knee.

That knee-extension is something that other catchers have done with success. As the link above notes, it was first made popular by former Pirates catcher Tony Pena back in the 1980s.

Also remember that the Cubs have 10 games in A.L. parks, so that can get Schwarber at-bats without him having to play the field. I’d assume that he’d be the DH in A.L. parks as long as a righthander is going.

Last year, when the Cubs carried Contreras, Montero and Ross on the roster, they were somewhat limited in their flexibility since two of those three players didn’t play another position. Contreras played some left field and actually wasn’t bad out there:

So I could see Joe Maddon using Contreras out there again from time to time to give him a break from catching, while still having his bat in the lineup. Having Schwarber as a third catcher means the Cubs don’t have to have a third “emergency catcher.” They could use him in an extra-inning situation, for example, if Montero starts and Joe wants to pinch-hit for him, Schwarber could come into the game if Maddon doesn’t want to use Contreras.

Strictly as a guess, I’d look for Contreras to start about 110-115 games, Montero to start 30-35, and Schwarber maybe 10-15. Yes, I realize that doesn’t add up to 162; I’m allowing for injuries, which could lead to having someone like Carlos Corporan, a non-roster invitee who will probably catch at Iowa this year, starting a few games. Those are just rough estimates.

So even without David Ross, who’s around during spring training and can be called on for help if needed, Cubs catching appears to be in good hands this year.