The Arizona Diamondbacks have had a disappointing performance this season. Last year, when the D-backs won the NL West after having two consecutive last-place finishes, most baseball people thought they would be the favorites to repeat. Their effort has been marred with injuries to Justin Upton and Chris Young and their pitching staff hasn't performed the way it did in 2011.
One player manager Kirk Gibson has been able to rely on is All-Star catcher Miguel Montero. On Sunday, the D-backs finalized a five-year, $60 million contract extension with Montero, who is almost 29. Even though he missed the past five games with a strained groin, his durability as a Major League catcher over the past season and a third hasn't been matched by any other catcher.
Having a left-handed hitting catcher is a rarity for a Major League team, but it helps the offensive production. Montero usually hits cleanup for the Diamondbacks because he produces well with runners in scoring position. For the last three full seasons, Montero has hit .299 with runners on base, whereas he has a .269 batting average without anyone on base.
Finding a good durable catcher is difficult for any team. Before last Monday when Montero experienced groin tightness that forced him to leave the game, he had caught about 81 percent of the games played by the Diamondbacks since the beginning of last season.
If Montero had to go on the disabled list for an extended period of time, the D-backs would be in trouble. Their backup catcher is Henry Blanco who is a capable defensive catcher, but at 40 how many consecutive games can he play without injuring himself or needing a rest? Although the D-backs have catchers in their Minor League system, they aren't ready for the Majors.
With free agency looming and knowing many other teams would have an interest in Montero, the D-backs gave him the richest contract in their history. Montero, a Venezuelan native, signed with the D-backs in 2001 but didn't arrive to the majors until 2006.
The Diamondbacks were hesitant to make the young catcher their everyday catcher, so he backed up more experienced but less talented catchers until 2009.
Montero has a strong and accurate throwing arm that prevents many runners from attempting to swipe a base. Last season he threw out 40 percent of the potential base stealers, and so far this year he has caught 50 percent. He also is very good at blocking low pitches.
In 2009, the local media selected him for their good guy award. His positive relationship with the media and community will help generate fan interest and bring people to Chase Field to watch the D-backs.
Sarah D. Morris can be reached at email@example.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.