Date/Location of Birth: November 28, 1989 in Guacara, Venezuela
Height/Weight: 6'3", 235 lbs.
The player that was very nearly traded to tonight's opponent wraps up our analysis of the Yankees top prospects.
Can he catch? That's been the only question regarding Jesus Montero's major league career. He's been big since he signed as a 16-year-old out of Venezuela for $1.6 million. Because of that, there have always been questions about his defense. For most of his pro career, scouts doubted whether he could be an everyday catcher.* They pegged him more as a DH, which would severely diminish his value. Despite that, the Yankees have kept plugging him into the catcher's spot day after day. Having caught 287 minor league games (out of 417) has turned him from a disaster into a passable backstop. His strength is his arm, which is capable of throwing seeds to gun down potential base-thieves, but he'll never be great at blocking errant pitches. Montero allowed 15 passed balls in 105 games last season, but to his credit, he's a very hard worker and takes a lot of pride in his defense. Joe Girardi and Co. told him in Spring Training to not even worry about hitting, only about catching. That's how much faith everyone has in his hitting ability. Baseball America rated him the fourth best prospect heading into 2010, and the third best heading into 2011.
His MiL triple slash goes as such: .313/.369/.503. He has plus hit-for-average ability and plus-plus power (though he hasn't shown it so far this year, clubbing just three over the wall). His swing should fit perfectly into Yankee Stadium, as he has almost as much power to rightfield as he does to left. He probably won't ever draw a lot of walks, for the same reason Robbie Cano doesn't: his zone coverage is so good he'll swing at pitches out of the zone simply because he can hit them. His high line drive rate (23%) this year means his .383 BABIP is not that out of line with where it should be.
This season he's disappointed in his peripherals (career worst K and BB rates) and in the power department, slugging only .424. There have been reports on slight "attitude" problems over the years. Last season he didn't run out a grounder and was benched for a few games. This year I've heard that he may be bored in Triple-A, partially to blame for his low SLG. On the other hand, I've also read about him doing extra catching practice after games, catching pop-ups, working in the bullpen, etc.
But will we ever actually see Montero in Yankee pinstripes? Brian Cashman was apparently willing to trade him for Cliff Lee last July, and there were even rumors of a straight up Montero-for-Joakim Soria trade (I'm skeptical on that one). I sure hope so. Of course, if a frontline starter becomes available, then it would have to be considered, but it sure looks like nothing much more than mediocrity will be available at the trade deadline.
If not for 39-year-old Jorge Posada's True Yankee-ness, Montero would likely be the DH/BUC already. But we and the front office (ahem, Hank, Randy, I'm talking to you) need to be patient. With Posada not taking up a roster spot, 2012 will probably see Montero open the season with the big club. Now what position he'll play is still up for debate. The signing of Russell Martin has thrown a wrench into the whole equation. He's arbitration eligible, so he'll almost certainly be back next year. Then what becomes of Jesus (and Austin Romine)? It could still work if he became the DH/BUC, playing 5-6 times a week. But then there are issues with the DH spot, namely Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez and Mark Teixeira, who are all on the wrong side of 30 and signed to long-term contracts.
ETA: Depends on the big league DH and catching situations. I think he (or Jorge Vazquez) should already be with the team. If Posada still isn't hitting by the All-Star break, Jesus may get his shot. If not (and he's not traded), then 2012.
* Joe Mauer and Matt Wieters are 6'5", 235 lbs. and 6'5", 225 lbs., respectively, yet I didn't hear a peep from scouts doubting their defensive abilities. It's one thing if they called Montero just not quick or limber enough, but no, it's based entirely on, "He's too big." It's BS, because Mauer and Wieters are bigger, and if scouts and experts want to criticize Jesus' defense, fine, but attributing it entirely to his size is just lazy.