Throughout their years in the desert, the Arizona Diamondbacks have always lacked a catcher that could be considered amongst their elite players. From Kelly Stinnett, Damien Miller and Jorge Fabregas to Rod Barajas, Johnny Estrada and Chris Snyder, the D’Backs have always seemed to have a journeyman behind the dish. Miguel Montero is out to single-handedly change the perception of the catching history in this organization and to prove himself as one of the game’s very best backstops.
Miguel Montero was signed by Arizona in 2001. The Caracas, Venezuela native played minor league baseball for five years in which he put together some impressive seasons. In 2005, he split time between Class A Lancaster and Class AA Tennessee. Combined, he would hit .286 with 17 home runs and 75 RBI’s which got him on the radar of the D’Backs brass. The following year, he split time between Class AA Tennessee and Class AAA Tucson before getting his first taste of the big leagues in when he appeared in six games for the D’Backs. His stats were good, especially in Tucson (.321, 7 HR, 29 RBI’s in 36 games), but he struggled when he got to the show. In those six games, he hit .250 with 0 HR and 3 RBI’s.
His first full-year in the big leagues was in 2007, when he platooned behind the plate with Chris Snyder. He appeared in 84 games, hitting .224, but flashed power in limited duty, hitting 10 home runs. While regressing somewhat in 2008 (.255, 5 HR) many felt that Montero’s flashy minor league numbers would never translate full-time in the majors. But, he proved his naysayers wrong one year later, when he was given the full-time job out of Spring Training in 2009.
The 29 year-old left-handed hitter had his coming out party in 2009. He played in 128 games and hit .294 with 16 HR and 59 RBI’s. After an injury plagued 2010 season(.266, 9 HR, 43 RBI’s in 85 games), doubt was cast on Montero being the everyday catcher, but again he rose to the challenge. Over the past two seasons, Montero has hit for a .284 avg. with 33 HR and 174 RBI’s. He was named to the 2011 National League All-Star team.
If you look at his offensive statistics in 2012 alone, they are very impressive when you compare him to catcher’s around the league. His batting average (.286) and on-base percentage (.391) rank fifth in the majors among full-time catchers (more than 100 starts). He ranked 11th in slugging percentage (.438). He ranked 2nd in RBI’s (88), 4th in hits (139), 8th in runs (65) and 14th in home runs (15). One of the new categories that has evolved as team’s look to try to figure out value of each player to a franchise is Wins Above Replacement (WAR). It measures how many wins a player will give you in a lineup that features him rather than the regular backup at that position. Montero finished 5th on the majors at a WAR of 5.0.
The one area that Montero does not get enough credit for, is his improvement as a defensive catcher. In his last three seasons, he has posted fielding percentages of close to .990 (.996 in2010, .989 in 2011, .992 in 2012). Last season, he committed only nine errors and threw out 42% of runners who attempted to steal on him, a career high percentage from a player who in the past, had been seen as a defensive liability.
If you look at the history of Diamondbacks catchers, Montero leads in almost every major measurable category from hits, to runs to RBI’s. Only Johnny Estrada (.302) has hit for a higher average than Montero (.271) and Chris Snyder has hit more home runs (62) than Montero (58), although Montero should pass him up this season.
If Montero can continue to improve in both areas, he will be seen for years to come as one of the games best and the best catcher in franchise history without a shadow of a doubt.