Jesus Montero Takes a Step Backward


With the Yankees getting seemingly unending media coverage every year, there’s no question that their top prospects get discussed a lot, especially coming up in midsummer trade talk seemingly every year.

One prospect nearly everyone’s heard of at this point is Yankees Triple-A catcher (or “catcher,” depending on who you ask) Jesus Montero, supposedly a star in the making.

It’s still quite possible that Montero becomes an elite MLB player, but his 2011 season may be clouding the picture.

Montero hit .289/.353/.517 in Triple-A last year as a 20-year-old, which is pretty stunning, even more so coming from somebody who sits behind the plate in the other half of the inning.

But the Yankees don’t want to rush the player often cited as their top prospect, so they decided to give him a second year in Triple-A and bring Russell Martin over to catch in the Bronx.

Montero’s responded by posting a near-identical .291 average in his repeat, but that’s the only remotely positive news for his 2011 offensive output. His OBP has dropped sixteen points, and his slugging has fallen 107. Montero is striking out a bit more, walking far less, and 3/4 of his hits have been singles.

He has tightened up his receiving behind the plate somewhat (just three passed balls, after letting fifteen by last season), but his caught-stealing percentage is a Piazza-esque 18%, which doesn’t bode well for his future as anything other than a DH, first baseman, or well-below-average catcher.

So, 2011=bad news on the Montero front. Worse, his performance is getting worse with the month, as he hit .365/.360/.473 in April, .269/.333/.413 in May, and just .232/.317/.321 thus far in June.

That’s not to say that he’s a lost cause. A .291/.337/.410 line from a 21-year-old in Triple-A is far from the end of the line, and we shouldn’t overreact to three mediocre months in any case. In fact, if he weren’t repeating the level and we didn’t have the previous Triple-A stats to compare to, this performance probably wouldn’t be as alarming.

The bottom line is, though, that Montero is a guy who needs to be slugging to have much value, wherever he winds up playing defensively, so missteps in that regard certainly cast at least some doubt on whether he’ll be elite enough with the bat to be a true All-Star level talent or just a Russell Branyan-type of wandering homer source. It’ll be nearly a decade before we know for sure, though.

It’s tough to know what to attribute Montero’s struggles to. It’s possible that all the work he’s put in defensively has taken his focus away from offense, or maybe all the trade rumors or the prospect of the New York spotlight has been some sort of distraction. Or maybe he’s dealing with some sort of injury or mechanical adjustment. Whatever the case may be, it’s definitely something to watch, as Montero is an important part of the Yankees’ future–either as a key offensive player or a key trade chip.

If he doesn’t show signs of rediscovering his power before the end of the year, then Montero will probably slide at least a bit on most prospect lists, which will likely make a large contingent of Yankee fans (and possibly the team themselves) regret the fact that he wasn’t traded when his value was higher.