Nov
07

Behind the plate, Montero’s time could be soon

By

Jesus Montero will be the Yanks’ starting catcher next year, says a Daily News report. Ideally, Montero will catch 100 games with Jorge Posada DHing and filling in behind the dish at times. Francisco Cervelli will start the year as the team’s back-up catcher, but if Austin Romine progresses, he could unseat the defensively inconsistent fist-pumper extraordinaire. The future, in other words, is here, and it’s one we’ve been anticipating since September.

We’ve heard this kind of plan before from the Yankees. Bubba Crosby was to start at center field before Johnny Damon came aboard. Nick Swisher was to be the primary first baseman before Mark Teixeira inked his monster deal. This time, though, Montero — at least at the plate — isn’t the second choice. He’s not a sleight-of-hand designed to serve as a negotiating chit. Offensively, he can be a Major Leaguer, but can he catch?

For Montero’s future and for the Yanks, his ability behind the plate will determine the team’s long-term and short-term plans for catcher, and few can agree on what those plans will be. Mark Feinsand says that the Yanks will not consider trading Montero this year. The team, he says, discussed it last week. “Montero’s future was among the topics of discussion during the Yankee meetings at the Stadium over the past two days, with Lee and the free-agent and trade markets dominating the conversation,” he writes. “Montero’s defense has been scrutinized, but team brass believes he made enough strides this season to assume the bulk of the workload in 2011.”

The defense is the issue. Montero is the Yanks’ number one prospect and has been for a few years. But that’s because of his bat, which many believe could be as good as Mike Piazza’s or even Miguel Cabrera’s. Last year, Baseball America questioned his defense:

Montero has improved under the tutelage of catching coordinator Julio Mosquera, but he still grades out as a below-average defender. The Yankees no longer talk about him as an everyday major league catcher. His defense frequently is compared to Mike Piazza’s, though he’s a bit more athletic. Montero is somewhat stiff and lacks agility behind the plate, leading to 11 passed balls in 59 games last year. He also threw out just 13 percent of basestealers at high Class A Tampa, and they tested him 108 times overall—nearly two attempts per game. While he improved, he has a long arm stroke that slows his transfer and detracts from his arm strength. His modest athleticism and below-average speed probably preclude a move to the outfield or third base, a position he played prior to signing.

Those who saw Montero play at AAA in 2010 say these concerns weren’t resolved. This year, he caught 105 games, and while he threw out 23 percent of would-be base stealers, International League opponents attempted 129 stolen bases against him. He also allowed 15 passed balls, and scouts — including ESPN’s Keith Law and Baseball Prospectus’ Kevin Goldstein — are wary of his future behind the plate. I haven’t seen him in person yet, but it doesn’t seem as though we can feel entirely comfortable with the idea of Montero’s catching 100 games.

Of course, Yankee fans are used to seeing sub-par defensive catchers. Jorge Posada hasn’t been at his peak behind the dish in a few seasons, and Cervelli hasn’t put his tools to use yet. If Montero’s bat is as good as advertised, he might be able to overcome defensive lapses, and he should be able to learn from Tony Peña at the Big League level.

Still, it’s a chance the Yankees almost have to take. They can’t give Cervelli over 300 plate appearances again in 2011, and Posada can’t withstand the every-day demands of catching. “It seemed when we caught him three days in a row, that was about the limit,” Girardi said to Feinsand of Jorge.

So the future starts in March. Montero will officially be given the chance to win the job out of Spring Training, but as we saw in 2010 with Phil Hughes, it will have to take an awful Spring Training for Montero to lose that battle against himself. Here’s to hoping the glove can handle the Big League job.

Categories : Musings

126 Comments»

  1. I wonder…if Montero does make it out of camp, will the Yankees roll with three catchers on the 25 man roster?

  2. YankFanDave says:

    “We’ve heard this rookie-centric plan before from the Yankees. Bubba Crosby was to start at center field before Johnny Damon came aboard. Nick Swisher was to be the primary first baseman before Mark Teixeira inked his monster deal.”

    Wahhh. Neither Bubba nor Nick were rookies at the time so what are you really trying to saying here. Come on Ben, you can do better that this.

  3. Also, could we see Montero at 1B on days Tex needs a day or half a day off? You could catch Jorge, DH Tex, and play Montero at 1B. Perhaps that could train Montero a bit to see if he could move to 1B when Tex’s contract is up, if he has to.

  4. masonflint says:

    haven’t there also been some positive reports on montero’s defensive improvements? can’t remember from whom (maybe Callis at B.A.), but i’m pretty sure i read some during the season. I’m holding out hope that he won’t be awful behind the plate.

  5. Rod says:

    I’ve mentioned it before here but Montero and Posada had similar PB and CS% in MiLB. He’s obviously less than ideal but some of the scouting reports make him sound like a quadruple amputee defensively.

  6. Honestly how bad of a catcher can he actually be? He is going to be with better pitchers in the majors so hopefully that’s less passed balls right there. Also I doubt anyone expects him to be a Molina but if he could at least fake it behind the plate, his bat is more than enough to compensate.

  7. JobaWockeeZ says:

    Cervelli had 15 passed balls at the same age as Jesus with a little less defensive innings caught.

    Of course his CS rate was better than Jesus but Jesus can certainly be serviceable behind the plate. A lot of fuss has been made when this report may not be true and when we never saw Jesus play for more than like 10 perent of the time.

    • I’m under the impression that with catching prospects the stats are kinda nebulous as far as being predictors or future success or even good measures of performance in the minors, and that scouting comes much more into play for kids at that position.

      Obviously we’ll see when he hits MLB and nobody knows how he’ll be behind the plate yet, but I think we have to take the scouting reports pretty seriously, and we probably have to take them more seriously than a few metrics that might make Montero look ok.

      • I would definitely agree with this. The numbers both help and hurt him. Obviously, they help him when making the comparison above, but they also hurt him a bit since minor leaguers don’t focus on holding runners on and what not. I’d go with the scouts and not the stats here.

    • JobaWockeeZ says:

      By the way Victor Martinez last year had a 21 percent CS rate out of 121 tries. Yet his .300/.350/.500 bat earned him a 4.0 WAR.

      Montero’s CS rate is around that mark in the minors. I’m going on a complete guess ehre but I’m willing to wager the minors are filled with athletic speedy types, even moreso than in the majors.

      The AL East sure isn’t a speedy division outside of the Rays. And in those games if it’s a pressing concern about his defense there’s the DH option for 3 games.

      • steve (different one) says:

        but WAR doesn’t really “know” what to do with Catcher defense

      • mbonzo says:

        From what I’ve heard, while AAA is filled with speedy runners, most of them are not as well trained in stealing bases as the average major league base stealer. What I mean is that most of the AAA players can’t read pitchers too well and that usually translates into a higher CS% for AAA catchers.

  8. T-Dubs says:

    If he hits like Piazza, I don’t care if he plays behind the plate with a milk carton for a glove. For what it’s worth, I would think with Girardi and Pena on the staff, he would have a lot of individual attention to coax his defense through the season.

  9. steve (different one) says:

    let’s see….the Yankees won’t trade Montero this winter. they realize Posada is a DH at this point. they plan to play Montero a lot this year and see what they have.

    check, check and check. sounds pretty good, no?

    if they plan to catch Montero 100 games, i don’t think they need to upgrade their 3rd catcher. if Cervelli is only getting 30-40 starts, they might as well save the money.

  10. Reggie C. says:

    I wonder if Montero is going to have to carry players’ bags. Looks like he’s doing attendant work in the pic above.

  11. jack says:

    if hes already better (presumably) than posada and at piazzas level….how is he not projected to be good enough defensively to start a maj. of the games behind the dish for the next several years, especially with tony pena and girardi with him every single day and better mlb pitching tocut down on all the passed balls?

    • T-Dubs says:

      “better mlb pitching to cut down on all the passed balls” /non Burnett division

      • MikeD says:

        …which brings up a good point. Who catches Burnett? AJ has always had a ton of wild pitches and passed balls in his starts throughout his career, no matter who catches him. Posada is not quite agile enough anymore to handle him consistently, and it’s highly doubtful that Montero can handle him. Might even be worse than Posada on that front. That means we are committing to one start every five days for Cervelli.

        • steve (different one) says:

          that’s still only 32 starts a year. if that was the bulk of cervelli’s PT, that wouldn’t be so bad

        • T-Dubs says:

          It’s crazy to assign your worst catcher to your worst pitcher. Not to say Girardi won’t do it. I think it’s exactly what he would do. But I think it’s ridiculous.

          • steve (different one) says:

            in general you have a point, but i disagree in this situation. AJ has a very specific “need” from his catcher: blocking his nasty breaking stuff in the dirt. Cervelli is the best at this skill. if he doesn’t feel like his catcher can block his best “stuff”, he might not throw the pitch with as much conviction.

            a lot of armchair psychology here for sure, but i think there is some thought behind the decision.

            • T-Dubs says:

              The Cervix is 100% the best candidate to block AJ’s disgusting breaking stuff. Problem is, he can block 100 of them in 3 innings until AJ’s in the clubhouse punching walls. If it’s the difference between 5 earned and 6 earned, I’d rather just have the extra 4 at bats from a real hitter.

              • JAG says:

                Well keep in mind too that there’s a non-zero chance that Cervelli gets pinch-hit for as soon as Burnett is out of the game. So the only way Cervelli is getting 4 at bats is if the team puts 8+ runners on base and Burnett pitches well enough to stay in the game until the 7th or later in which case…I’ll take that all day.

              • Keep in mind that when he wasn’t starting nearly every day, Cervelli hit well. His offense fell off a cliff when he started playing more. In limited appearances we may see a little better offense out of him…hopefully.

  12. T-Dubs says:

    Can we please all refer to him as “The Jesus” so I can continue to scream “Nobody fucks with The Jesus!” every time I see him?

  13. OldYanksFan says:

    It is reported that Montero has a strong arm, so maybe Pena can help him improve his CS%. Besides, isn’t 25% about league average? It could be Brains catches AJ when they play teams that run.

    But yes…. Montero’s bat projects to be better then Posada’s, so even if he’s a bit worse then Jorge defensively, he’s still a huge asset on the team.

  14. bobby says:

    i want a miguel cabrera type bat. that would be amazin!!!

  15. YankeesJunkie says:

    Well before the Cliff Lee non trade, I would have said that Montero needed to spend the good part of 2011 hitting in AAA just so he can get more AB’s in the minors so he would not be overwhelmed in the bigs. However his last two full months at SWB he wOBA was .442 and .408 which is ridiculous. Jesus has earned the call, and with Pena and Giradi there he will be pushed to be a better catcher with some good coaches so there is a good chance he does improve. However, Jesus can come in right away and give the Yankees a powerful bat in the bottom of the lineup and power from the right side.

  16. Poopy Pants says:

    This is exciting. Just what I needed on a Sunday in November. Cool.

  17. Mike HC says:

    Can’t wait to watch Montero play everyday. I hope Cashman isn’t just blowing smoke. You never know with that guy.

  18. Jake H says:

    If you look at what Tony Pena did to Posada when he got there Posada went from a negative defender to a positive one for 2 years. Posada also was 34. I think Pena will be able to do a lot more with Montero.

    • nostra-artist says:

      Also, posada didn’t enter the bigs as a finished product himself. He backed up Girardi in 96-98 before getting the bulk of catching time in 1999. It appears the Yanks are taking the same approach with Montero, who’s bat projects to be better than Jorge.

  19. masonflint says:

    a hypothetical ?: let’s say he’s the worst defensive catcher in MLB; how good would his offense have to be to justify keeping him behind the plate.

    • jon says:

      was jorge the worst catcher this year?

      if so then hes gotta hit like jorge does

    • YankeesJunkie says:

      Defensive metrics for catching are very poor so it is hard to tell but the lowest was Ryan Doumit at -15 followed by Posada at -6. So if you assume Montero is at -10 he would have to be a 3 WAR (with positional adjustment) hitter to make him an average C.

    • GermanYankee says:

      then he has to be be at least as good as Posada or V-Mart. If he’s really as good as Piazza then I’d have no probs if he’s the worst catcher in MLB.

      btw: I don’t think his D will be worse than Posada’s and that would be okay.

  20. jack says:

    also the kid is 20/ 21 freaking yrs old you cannot tell me he will not be able to improve his defense to be at least as good as posadas in his prime, again considering that girardi and pena will be there every step of the way

    • All Star Carl says:

      I came in to post this. Nice post jack!

    • Zack says:

      you cannot tell me he will not be able to improve his defense to be at least as good as posadas in his prime

      Why? If he’s not a great athlete now, as he ages and matures his body type will make him less flexible behind the dish, making him a worse catcher.

  21. Sal says:

    What number will he wear? 17? 18? 12? Is it too soon to give hime Mussina’s 35? O’neil’s 21? steal #12 from that ss?

  22. yankees1717 says:

    even if montero’s not great now, who’s to say he can’t gradually improve over the next five years or so until he’s at least a league average defensive catcher?

  23. JAG says:

    Why does below-average speed detract from his ability to play 3rd? I mean, sure, possibly his defense doesn’t let him pass at C. But that quote from BA is the first I’d heard of Montero being a possibility at 3rd. If he can play 3rd even as well as Mark Reynolds I’d take that, especially in a bat with as much potential as Montero’s. If he could swing that, maybe he could even take reps at both in ST and spell A-Rod and Posada…

  24. Jonathan says:

    I can’t help but think with all the catchers available this year in the FA pool, that this would be a good time to get a decent catcher like Buck/Olivo/Pierzynski/Torrealba and let Montero work on his defense and keep his arbitration clock from starting like the Giants did with Posey. We could always just trade the other catcher (once again like the Giants did with Molina) when Montero was ready. Jorge could catch once or twice a week, the FA could catch 3-4 times a week and Cervelli could catch the rest.

    While it would cost a few extra million to dip into the C FA pool, it would save several million in the long run with Montero. And we’ll have Montero under contract until he’s 28 instead of 27, giving us another year of his prime. Also, if his defense isn’t going to cut it at the MLB level, in 2011 Jorge will be gone and the DH spot will be somewhat open besides the usual guys who need semi regular DH time. And who knows, maybe Romine steps up and will be ready for 2011.

    Again, I wouldn’t pay a lot for one of those catchers but I’m guessing a decent catcher will be available for 1 year at a few million and we shouldn’t shy away from that plan. This could also be a ploy to raise his trade value. We shall see.

    • Hughesus Christo says:

      I’m not saying the Yankees don’t give any consideration to starting a young guy’s arbitration clock, but they don’t give much. This isn’t San Francisco.

      • Jonathan says:

        I wasn’t saying to get another catcher to hold his arbitration clock. I was saying it would be a welcome byproduct of getting a FA catcher. And like I said, if he proves to be ready, we can always trade the FA. And we haven’t had a situation like this in a long time. You have no idea how much the Yankees think about the arbitration clock. They didn’t bring up Cano/Hughes/Joba at the start of a season. You could say because they weren’t ready at the start of the year, but that’s what I’m saying could be true about Jesus.

        I’m saying it would be much easier to trade a catcher on a 1 year deal to someone who needs one than it would be to plug the hole if Jesus can’t hack it defensively. Nobody wants to see another Jorge/Cervelli show.

    • Ed says:

      I wouldn’t be surprised if the Yankees let Montero stay in the minors for 3+ weeks just to set back his free agent clock a year. I don’t think they’ll care about arbitration though – at this point you need to call someone up in June to ensure delaying arbitration.

      Also, the collective bargaining agreement is going to expire before Montero can become a super two. It’s quite likely that they’re going to overhaul the super two rule to avoid the manipulation issues, so it’s probably stupid to try manipulating it at this point.

  25. Jerome S says:

    Montero’s probably working hard as hell on his defense in Venezuela, even if he ain’t playing. He knows his weaknesses better than we do; you know he’s got to be doing bullpen sessions or something, every day.

  26. Mike Ri says:

    Its time for Montero. Plain and simple.

  27. Kiersten says:

    All I gotta say is Mo bless the American League.

  28. BigGuy says:

    I have followed Montero and saw most of his games last year at SWB. His first 2 months were horrible, both at the plate, but moreso behind it. 11 passed balls in the first 2 months, but he only had 4 from June til the end of the season. He also started the year 0-18 and 1-23 in throwing out runners in April and May. While he’s still not going to be a great defender, his numbers obviously improved from June until the end of the year in that area also. The kid obviously needs work on his defense. Another year at SWB would be a help if he continues to improve the way he did the 2nd half of last year. But chances are that he’ll be in NY either out of ST, or at least by June 1st. Looking back at how poor both Posada and Cervelli (except for blocking balls) were last year, he did end up throwing a higher percentage of runners out than both of them. Yankees defense behind the plate is going to be a problem next year for sure. But the kid has shown definite signs of improvement. He could end up being passable behind the plate and if that happens, his bat will more than make up for it.

  29. futureman says:

    Montero had the highest CS% at SWB and was just below the IL average of 27%. The IL as a league had the lowest CS% of any league that BR has stats for. Moeller had a paltry 10% in 26 games behind the plate.

  30. Baseball Jesus is coming says:

    If nothing else it gives us a powerful right handed bat off the bench to pinch hit or DH when Jorge is catching.

  31. YankeesJunkie says:

    If Montero gets a 130 games between C/DH this year with the Yankees a .270/.330/.450 would not surprise me at all and I think I may be a little conservative on the slugging.

    • camilo Gerardo says:

      yea, this site is definitely very conservative in stat predicting department. everyone wants to sound smart and not be a homer. .305/.368/.520 is very balanced to me

  32. Baseball Jesus is coming says:

    Also is it true the yankees have wonderful new seats going in directly behind home plate making the distance to the back stop only 10 ft.

  33. Yazman says:

    In April, nothing’s more exciting than watching a top prospect given a real shot.

    Montero + Lee + core return (Mo, Captain, Andy) = happy holidays for this Yankee fan.

  34. Jimmy McNulty says:

    Pick up Russell Martin and dump Cervo.

  35. Leo in Houston says:

    I saw him…Great-fantastic bat…big league hitter; might have a little adjustment but he can RAKE.
    Defense, not good, needs alot of improving.
    I question his ability to call games, needs much improvement.
    Holding base runners-getting better already.
    Running bases–SLOW, looks like he has a piano on his back. Doesn’t matter when he hits it over the fence.

    • gc says:

      To what degree do catchers really “call the game” in the minors? I always thought that at that level, the coaches pretty much called them and signaled to the catchers.

  36. Bart says:

    Shouldn’t we start refering to him as “J-Mo”? We already have “J-Lo”, so why not “J-Mo”?

  37. kosmo says:

    there is a reason Romine is in the AFL .He´s right behind Montero.We can assume Romine is the starting catcher for Scranton in 2011 and a callup if Montero falters.I´d rather see Romine behind the dish than Cervelli.

  38. larryf says:

    The guy is better back there than you think. I saw him 3x up close in Aug and Sept. He is 20! Posada is 39. Jorge didn’t catch until he was 23 and didn’t start until he was 25/26. Personal training/nutrition counseling is much better now. I am confident Jesus will be fine back there except when AJ pitches.

  39. Greg Davenport says:

    I love cervelli for what he is, a 110% all day every day but he’s a liability as a backstop and can’t hit. With that said he’s the best backup C you could hope for. He makes those around him as good if not better than they are.He is what you want your kids to see at “the big ballpark” The starting C position is one you have to buy or trade for. Nothing is more demoralizing than an opponent that embarrasses your team and catcher by running on him as their sole offensive weapon. If montero can develop milwaukee is a good place to start. 2011 is a year that the wheels could come off. Why? The jeter retirement annuity contract is going to hurt everyone and help only derek’s ego and bank account. This is born of past sins i.e a-rod,s 33 million a year and derek’s unspoken demand for parody. I love jeter but my grandkids should not have to pay for what he has already been well compensated for. We need 4 starters(how much) a left fielder that can hit, a catcher than can catch and throw and hitting is a bonus. A fair contract for mariano, an admission that someone ruined a nice kid named JABA.I’ve been a yankee fan for 60 years but cashman would have to open the vault to get new blood while bruising the ego.s of some of the great’s.If there are fewer walk off wins and no more proven pitcher,s ( not nova) Tony Pena will be the manager by the all star break or sooner. This is the ghost of horace clarke et al

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