The Futility Infielder

A Baseball Journal by Jay Jaffe I'm a baseball fan living in New York City. In between long tirades about the New York Yankees and the national pastime in general, I'm a graphic designer.

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

 

The Montero Question(s)

In yesterday's chat, I had a two-part exchange with a reader regarding perhaps the Yankees' top prospect:
Charlie (Bethesda, MD): Think Jesus Montero is a good enough catcher (and hitter) to play DH and backup catcher for the Yankees next year? If he's their DH they could probably rotate him, Posada and Cervelli as catcher to use both of their bats and reduce wear and tear on Jorge.

JJ: You'd have to search far and wide to find anyone who thinks Montero will be a catcher at the major league level, or that it's a good idea to take a raw 2019-year-old with his collection of strengths and weaknesses and let him fester on the major league bench. Horrible, horrible idea.

Charlie (Bethesda, MD): My point with Montero probably wasn't clearly written. I think he should be the starting DH, and was wondering if you thought he could catch enough to have the occasional start back there sprinkled in.

JJ: To borrow a phrase from the Simpsons, we discussed this already and I said, "no." He's 19, he needs to learn a defensive position, and it doesn't serve either his interests or the team's to start his clock so early when there are better fits for now out there.
I bring that exchange up not because of my hardline stance or my expertise on such matters but because today colleague Kevin Goldstein surprised me with this bit about Montero in his Top 100 Great Leaps Forward rundown:
Jesus Montero, C, Yankees (Pre-season ranking: 38)
After a big full-season debut last year, Montero has gone from one of the better hitting prospects around to simply one of the best period, as after going off in the Florida State League with a .356/.406/.583 line, the 19-year-old hasn't missed a beat as one of the youngest players in Double-A, batting .312/.379/.527 for Trenton, including a recent four-game stretch in which he hit five home runs. "He has improved his plate discipline, he's making more contact, and he's still going to get better," said Mark Newman, Senior Vice President of Baseball Operations for the Yankees. "His balance is going to get better, he's going to have a better plan at the plate... offensively, he's as good as anyone we've had here." Montero's defense behind the plate has often been the bigger story, but he continues to make strides there, with a handful of scouts believing he could at least start his big-league career behind the plate. "He's got a ways to go still," admitted Newman. "But his arm accuracy and delivery times are much better. We knew that was an issue when we first signed him, but my confidence in his ability to stay at catcher grows all the time."
It's good to hear that Montero's progressing defensively. It's also timely given that it's July, a month when any team would be well served to talk up its prospects in case they're needed for a deadline deal. Note that the Yankees also have the well-regarded Austin Romine, who's better defensively, in their system. He ranked fourth on Goldstein's Top 11 Yankees Prospects list, where Montero was first. Regarding the two catchers, Goldstein wrote, "Romine has a far better chance of sticking at catcher than Montero, and should be seen as the catcher of the future....He'll continue playing in the shadow of Montero at High-A Tampa, but his all-around skills could be part of what eventually pushes Montero off of the position."

Note also that their second-round pick in this year's draft was also a catcher, one J.R Murphy. They're not exactly brimming with confidence that Montero's the backstop of their future, though Baseball America's John Manuel had this to say about the Murph: "People aren't sure if he will stick at catcher defensively ... he can hit, and he has some athletic ability, but there are only so many catchers that you can play in the minors at each level."

In any event, I still think the day when Montero joins the Yankee lineup is a ways off, because he's either got to prove that his catching skills are legitimate, or he's got to learn another position. That won't happen overnight, and if he shifts, it would make no sense for him not to be playing every day while learning the ropes. He's an exciting prospect, to be sure, but the Yankees have every reason not to rush him.

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