Montanez comes full circle in Cubs debut
Outfielder cracks two hits 11 years after he was drafted
CHICAGO -- Eleven years after he was drafted third overall by the Cubs, Lou Montanez played his first game at Wrigley Field on Tuesday, and he made the wait pay off.
Montanez went 2-for-4 with a double, single, walk and RBI in an 11-1 Cubs win. His double in his first Cubs at-bat sparked a five-run second inning. After the hit, some Cubs fans shouted "Louuu."
"For some reason, a nice sounding name like that, it's contagious," Montanez said after the game. "They like to [shout] it. Crowds like to unite in a certain way and do something together, and stuff like that, they love doing it. You also have to contribute a little."
And Montanez did quickly, which allowed him to settle in.
"It's a relief," he said. "You want to do something positive from the get-go to calm down a little bit. But surprisingly, I was pretty calm. I thought I was going to be a little more antsy, but I was pretty reserved."
The Cubs called up the 29-year-old outfielder earlier in the day to fill the roster spot of Matt Garza, who was placed on the 15-day disabled list with a right elbow bone contusion. But it was the injury Marlon Byrd sustained Saturday in Boston -- when he was hit in the face with a pitched ball -- that made room in the outfield for Montanez, whom the Cubs selected as a shortstop in the 2000 First-Year Player Draft. Montanez played right field on Tuesday night.
In 42 games this season with Triple-A Iowa, Montanez was batting .369 with five homers, 11 doubles and three triples, posting a .429 on-base percentage. He was hitting .512 (21-for-41) against left-handers, a big reason why he was in the lineup against Mets left-hander Jon Niese.
Montanez labored through seven years in the Cubs' organization but never made it to the big leagues. He was declared a Minor League free agent after the 2006 season and signed with the Orioles, eventually making his Major League debut in '08. That season, he won the Eastern League batting crown with a .335 average and was promoted on Aug. 5.
But he opened 2009 at Triple-A Norfolk and missed more than three months because of torn ligaments in his right thumb suffered in early May. He began last season at Norfolk again and was called up to the Orioles in April. He appeared in 26 games, batting .140, before he was sidelined with a strained left oblique and was once again granted free agency in the offseason.
After reaching out to the Cubs himself, Montanez signed a Minor League deal with the club on Jan. 12, and he was in Spring Training as a non-roster invitee. He said he wanted to return to the organization that drafted him.
"I still know a bunch of the guys here and a bunch of the coaches, and I always wanted to be a Cub," said Montanez, who played for Cubs manager Mike Quade with Triple-A Iowa in 2006. "It means a lot to me. It's not just bouncing around teams. I didn't want to bounce around to another team. I really wanted to come back home to my original organization. It kind of feels like that."
Montanez, from Bayamon, Puerto Rico, said his hitting improved after he moved from shortstop to the outfield.
"When [I] switched to outfield, I really started concentrating on hitting," he said. "Not that you don't have to concentrate on fielding, it's just there's not as many responsibilities as a catcher or shortstop. It really helped me out on the offensive side. My personality is really laid back, and as you know, outfielders are a little more laid back than, like, the second baseman [or] leadoff guy."
After the game, manager Mike Quade commended Montanez's defense.
"If you watched him move around, he's pretty good in the outfield, too," Quade said.
Alex Ruppenthal is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.