Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Jesus Montero - The Next Great Home-Grown Yankee?

Editor's Note: For the record, Alan (Yanks26) had this post ready to go on Sunday, but we held off publishing until during the week. In an interesting twist of fate, Montero was promoted to Trenton on Tuesday, making this piece even more timely. We'll spare you the Jesus jokes and get right into the meat of the story - the kid is a beast.

Jesus Montero has been promoted to AA Trenton, after ripping up the lower leagues the last two years as an underage player. Is he the real deal or another Wily Mo Pena, Jackson Melian or Drew Henson?

Montero was signed as an international free agent on October 17, 2006 for a $1.65 million bonus. There was a lot of hype behind the man child's light-tower power. How has Montero lived up to the hype?

Montero is a towering figure at 6'5" and 225 lbs, especially for a catcher. He's leading the Advanced A league in hitting at .356, Slugging (.583) and OPS at .969. In his last 10 games, Montero's hit .475, and has only struck out two times. Last year in the Sally Leagues, Montero had the 8th most hits of any minor leaguer with 171. He hit .326, with 17 home runs and 87 RBI's. That was good for second in the league in batting average average, 2nd in doubles, 4th in RBI's and 2nd in total bases.

One of the most encouraging aspects of Montero's hitting prowess is that he is able to handle off speed pitches. Many of the top "tools" hitters get exposed once they reach the upper levels of the minors and majors. Shelley Duncan has 18 homers for Scranton, and has shown that he can stay hot in The Bronx - until the major leaguers make their adjustment and throw a heavy diet of curves and change ups. Montero will need to make adjustments, but he has shown he can stay back on the off speed pitches.

In spring training this year, Montero had one at bat and homered off of a major league pitcher - not a bad first impression. He could probably hit in the majors, but for a team that isn't in the "win-now" mode. The problem is his defense, which is way behind his hitting ability. Montero is splitting the catching duties with Austin Romine, who is considered the Yanks third highest rated position prospect. Last year they alternated each game between DH and catcher. This year they play two games on and two games off behind the dish. Montero is having troubles controlling the running game, as his caught stealing ratio is below 20% and he has had several games with five stolen bases allowed - not something to brag about on your minor league catching resume. Montero's transfer of the ball is slow and he is going to need several years of seasoning if he's going to stick at catcher. Think Mike Piazza as a comp - his hitting can be that dominating, but the defense will always be an issue.

The position that Montero would have been able to play very soon is first base, but that's not going to happen, with Mark Teixeira signed to a long term contract. Montero probably does not have the foot speed to play the outfield and his offense stats show that Montero hits better when he's a DH. This year, Montero's OPS is .713 as a catcher and 1.267 as a DH. Meanwhile he has one homer as a catcher and 7 as a DH.

In AA, Montero should be able to to excel, at least as a hitter. How quickly he moves from there will depend on his continued adjustment to the new level of pitching, learning the nuances of catching and how well Frankie Cervelli performs as Posada's stand in next year when Molina isn't resigned. If Cervelli performs well and Austin Romine continues to progress, The Yanks may have the luxury of being able to rush Montero's bat and forgo the learning curve of the catcher position. If all goes well for Montero he should be call-up to the show by the end of 2010.
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