Schwarber, Montero bonding behind the plate

Schwarber, Montero bonding behind the plate

CHICAGO -- Kyle Schwarber's biggest fan is the veteran catcher he's trying to replace, Miguel Montero, who has already made plans to help the Cubs rookie get better, starting Jan. 10.

Montero told Schwarber he expects the 22-year-old to be in Arizona on that date for a month of workouts. And Schwarber's all in.

"We're going to work together on defense," Montero said. "I don't want to have bats, I don't want to have anything else. I just want to work on defense.

"He's a hard-working guy and such a good kid," Montero said of the Cubs' 2014 No. 1 Draft pick. "I really admire his work ethic, and I want to help him be the best he can be behind the plate. I think he can be a catcher in the big leagues. Plus, his bat is a middle-of-the-order bat. We're looking at many years to come in the Cubs organization as a good defensive catcher and a good hitter."

Promoted from Triple-A Iowa on July 17 when Montero went on the disabled list with a sprained left thumb, Schwarber has made 12 starts at catcher, but none since Aug. 6. Despite Montero's return, the Cubs decided to keep Schwarber. He's been playing left field and has hit .313 with eight home runs and 27 RBIs in 34 games. The rookie calmly handled having a beer bottle thrown at him during the Cubs' Interleague series against the White Sox, and he has earned praise from manager Joe Maddon.

"There's nothing false, phony or fake with him," Maddon said. "He's real."

Schwarber notched the second two-homer game of his young career last Thursday against the Brewers, driving in four runs. Montero showed his support on Twitter after the game:

@miggymont26: "How good is this kid @kschwarb12? Amazing !!!!!"

@miggymont26: "I don't know if you guys feel the same but every time @kschwarb12 gets on the plate I'm think (he is about to hit this ball really hard)"

On Friday, Montero posted an early selfie with Schwarber, who he called "the beast." He meant that in a good way.

@miggymont26: "I think @kschwarb12 walk up song should be animals. What do you think?"

That prompted lots of suggestions, including one from fan @ChrisWhitePE who tweeted: "if the dude keeps raking he can walk up to Lawrence Welk & we'd all like it."

Schwarber's actual walk-up music is Bone Thugs-n-Harmony "Thuggish Ruggish Bone," which was released in 1994, one year after the rookie was born.

OK, we know Schwarber can hit. What does he need to do to be a better catcher?

"Just experience," Montero said. "He's like a brand new glove, he needs to break it in. He just needs repetitions, to be behind the plate without putting too much pressure on him."

Maddon said Sunday he didn't want to overload the rookie right now. The Cubs are second in the National League Wild Card standings. Every game counts.

"This is a good taste for him," Montero said. "It's tough for a catcher in the first year, coming to the big leagues, and he doesn't know the whole league. You can get a scouting report and all that, but as a catcher, you want to have a feeling, you want to have a gut [feeling], you want to have a sense of things that's not in the scouting report. That comes with experience.

"My plan is to help him be the best he can be behind the plate," Montero said. "It would make me proud -- it would make me proud of myself to help him be one of the best catchers in the league."

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Montero, 32, said he had plenty of coaches help him, but no player ever took him under their wing to teach the nuances of the position. He knows Schwarber will someday take his job.

"I know it's going to come one day, and when it comes, I hope it's him and nobody else, because he can rake," Montero said.

Even when he's starting in left field, Schwarber is busy pregame catching side sessions and doing drills with coach Mike Borzello. Schwarber has marked his 2016 calendar with a January trip to Arizona.

"[Montero] has been great with me ever since Spring Training," Schwarber said. "He's an awesome dude to learn from. I've got to take advantage of opportunities, and that's an opportunity to take advantage of.

"He wants me to catch, and he's told me he wants me to catch," Schwarber said. "Every time he says that he knows I can do it, it gives me a little reassurance. I know there's still a lot of work, and that's what he knows, too, and he wants to help me out in any way possible."

Maybe someday down the road, after Schwarber has played several seasons in the big leagues, there will be another young prospect for him to tutor. Montero hopes so.

"We're a team, we're a family here, so if we can help each other out, it's going to make us a better team," Montero said. "That's what we're looking for is being a better team -- we all have one goal and that's to win."

Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. She writes a blog, Muskat Ramblings. You can follow her on Twitter @CarrieMuskat and listen to her podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.