- Associated Press - Wednesday, March 4, 2015

MESA, Ariz. (AP) - Miguel Montero is doing his homework these days.

The longtime Arizona Diamondbacks catcher is busy learning the Chicago Cubs’ pitching staff after the team acquired him in an offseason trade for two low-level prospects.

“I’m communicating with the pitchers,” Montero said. “I want to get to know my pitchers well, so I have a pretty good idea when I catch them.”

Communication and establishing trust are crucial for catchers in this situation, Cubs manager Joe Maddon said Wednesday.

“The pitcher has to feel the catcher really does care about him, that the catcher is out there for the pitcher’s best interests,” said Maddon, a former backstop himself.

“When that happens, the highest compliment a catcher can get is a pitcher says, ‘I like throwing to this guy.’”

The Cubs are hoping the 31-year-old Montero is still in his prime after logging plenty of innings during a Diamondbacks career that started in 2006. He played 1,152 innings last season, third-most among major league catchers.

“My body is in good shape,” Montero said. “I feel great. I feel so far my bat speed is there. I just feel good.”

Maddon, also in his first season with the Cubs, said Montero will “catch the preponderance of innings.”

“How many is that? I’m not quite sure yet. We’ll see how this plays. If we give him rest periodically, you’re going to get the best version of him,” the manager said.

Montero is a .264 career hitter with 97 home runs, but last year he slumped late and finished at .243 with 13 homers and 72 RBIs.

He ranked 26th in fielding percentage among catchers at .988 in stats compiled by MLB.com. He was in the middle of the pack in throwing out runners; his .711 stolen base percentage ranked 14th.

Montero said he sensed a trade coming so strongly that, unlike in past years, he cleared out his locker with the Diamondbacks at the end of last season.

“I knew it was going to happen,” he said.

He said he’d like to believe he was cut loose for money reasons - he is owed $40 million over the next three seasons - rather than any questions about his skills.

“I would like to think it was just payroll,” he said. “Other than that, I was loyal to my team and to the fans. I gave my best every day. The last few years, it didn’t work out the way I wanted, but that’s baseball.”

He bristles at any suggestion that wear and tear might have affected his defense last year for the Diamondbacks.

“I don’t know what people mean when they talk about defense,” Montero said. “I blocked a lot of balls. . The pitching staff I had last year was tough to work with because sometimes they didn’t know where they were throwing the ball, and I was still able to block it. It’s hard to call a game when the location is not there.

“It’s easy to criticize one guy rather than 12 guys that you’ve got on the mound. I’m not criticizing any of my pitchers. It’s just, we win together, we lose together,” he added. “We all together didn’t do our job. As a team, we didn’t play good defense, we didn’t pitch good, we didn’t hit good. When you lose 98 games, it’s not just one guy. It’s about the whole team. Last year, what can I say? It was a terrible year overall.”

If spring training is any indication, 2015 with the Cubs will be much more enjoyable for Montero.

“This so far has been one of the most fun camps I’ve been around. All this has to do with Joe. He makes everything so nice and enjoyable,” Montero said. “Spring training is the time of the year when it’s kind of miserable; it’s dragging every morning. I’m so pumped up every morning when I come to work. That’s what you’re looking for.”

NOTES: The Cubs are all healthy as the team opens its spring schedule Thursday, Maddon said. . The Cubs will play split-squad games Thursday, with Travis Wood starting at home vs. Oakland in Mesa while Jacob Turner faces San Francisco in Scottsdale. . Dexter Fowler, Anthony Rizzo, Starlin Castro, Montero and Javier Baez will play in Mesa, Maddon indicated.

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