Sunday, January 16, 2011

Is Jesus Montero the New Savior in New York?

There's an old saying in baseball that prospects get you fired. I disagree. Rather I think trading away potential prospects gets you fired. If you are in the front office of a major league team, your evaluation of talent better be exemplary. And if you are the general manager for the New York Yankees it better be damn near perfect. Brian Cashman made the bold proclamation several weeks ago that the Yankees #1 minor league prospect Jesus Montero was not going to be involved in any trade discussions. (Although he did hedge his bets recently.)

In any case, Cashman absolutely made the right choice by not letting the young Venezuelan catcher get away. I hate to ever say that a prospect is a "can't miss" player, but on paper Montero looks like a future All-Star. Pre-2010 Baseball America listed him as the #4 prospect in the minor leagues. His minor league numbers have been phenomenal. Last year at Scranton Wilkes-Barre he hit 21 HR, drove in 75, scored 66 runs, smacked 34 doubles, and had a respectable .289 average for a catcher. The stat that really jumps off the page though was his SLG which was an impressive .517.

What is even scarier is that the Yankee scouts indicate Montero is just now really starting to develop his power. Furthermore, he's a player that can spray the ball to all parts of the field and has opposite field power. At only 21 years old, it is likely that minus a few growing pains, his power numbers will continue to develop. With Yankee stars A-Rod and Mark Texiera moving into their late and middle thirties over the next few years, it is not a stretch to assume that Montero will one day be hitting in the middle of the lineup.

The one knock against Montero is his defense. At 6' 4" and 225 lbs, Montero has a much larger build than the prototypical catcher, a position that normally demands a more compact body. While his fielding percentage last year was good at .992, he had 15 passed balls and six errors. By all accounts however his defense has come a long way and he continues to improve with each passing year. Regardless, Brian Cashman has already publicly stated that Montero will get a chance to compete for the starting position in 2011.

Moreover, I think Montero needs to compete for the starting position, not so much for his self-confidence (although that is a factor) but mostly because the Yankees are in desperate need of a strong catcher. Jorge Posada has started at catcher in only 194 out of the 486 games he's appeared in since 2007 and his defensive WAR is a pathetic -1.1. Not that Posada was ever very good at throwing runners out, but at this point in his career he couldn't throw Kirstie Alley out trying to steal second with a truckload of Hagen Das on her back. Also at 40 years old his knees are not going to hold up and his power numbers continue to drop. More than likely he will be used as a DH for the majority of the 2011 season. Thankfully this is the last year of his contract and hopefully of his career.

An analysis of the other two catchers on the Yankees depth chart bodes even better for Montero's chances. First there is Francisco Cervelli the Yankees spot starter at catcher over the last few years. With a defensive WAR of -.9 and precisely 0 HR last year, it is safe to say that Montero could provide better numbers if given the chance to be a full time starter. Then of course there was the Yankees offseason acquisition of Russell Martin from the Dodgers. He's not exactly setting the world on fire either. In the last two years Martin has accumulated only 32 doubles and 12 HR with a batting average right around .250. (To be fair part of that was due to injuries.) However, he did only have five passed balls last year and he threw out batters almost 40% of the time. The defensive ability is obviously there.

However, I think the Yankees would best be served in letting Montero catch at least half the time in 2011 assuming he makes the team. Not only would it give the young catcher a chance to improve his defensive skills and expose himself to big league pitching, it will also give the Yankees a better idea if Montero should remain at catcher. Considering the incumbents challenging Montero, I'd say the odds are better than 50% that he wins the everyday job at catcher.

Regarding playing catcher in the majors Montero has stated, "I want to be a catcher. I love to catch. I like to be a catcher. I like to be in the middle of the game. I mean it's my position. I want to play my position."

At this point the Yankees just want him on the team. As to what position that will be...well...only God knows for sure.

1 comment:

  1. @Corrye - Great article. Very well researched. I wouldn't be surprise to see the Yankees allow Swisher to leave as a free agent after 2011, and then allow Montero to take over in RF.

    The Yankees are absolutely stacked at catcher. Many really like Romine, but I'm not so sure. Unlike Montero, his defense is fine, but his bat needs work. He has decent power for his age and level, but his plate discipline seems to be lacking. A 229/92 K/BB rate in the low minors won't translate well to the majors.

    Gary Sanchez looks pretty good. He's only 17, and he's still in the low minors, but he seems like a natural hitter. He, too, needs work on his plate discipline, but scouts seem to think he'll develop it over the next few years.