I’m as big a fan of Jesus Montero as there is. I’m glad the Cliff Lee trade didn’t go through. I’m glad they didn’t trade him for Roy Halladay. I have not seen him catch in person though I think the Yankees should try him at catcher until they’re 100% sure he either can or can’t handle the position. As bullish as I am on Montero, Bill James’ 2011 projections for him just seem insane. If you haven’t seen yet, James predicts a .285/.348/.519 line with 21 HR’s. Yes, that’s in the major leagues.
How realistic is this? First, considering this in a perspective solely to Montero, that line is eerily similar to his 2010 AAA line of .289/.353/.517 line with 21 HR’s. So James prediction essentially says Montero will repeat his numbers as a 20 year old getting his first taste AAA as a 21 year old getting his first taste of the major leagues. For all of us who followed Montero this year, we know that he got off to a horrible start and a ridiculously hot finish. While the slow start is certainly a possibility (and maybe even a probability) in the major leagues, is there any way Montero would go on a tear like he did last year, hitting .351/.396/.684 after the All Star break? It took a run like that just to land at his final AAA line, and I can’t see that type of production in the major leagues over such a long period of time. That’s Pujolsian. So I’d say for Montero to approach his AAA line in the majors in 2011, he’d have to be pretty consistently awesome for 6 months (with the expected normal peaks and valleys) as a 21 year old rookie catcher, in New York, playing on a team that expects to win the World Series. Good luck with that.
How realistic is Montero’s projection in a historical context? Since 1901 how many 21 year old (or younger) catchers have ever slugged over .500 while catching at least 100 games? Answer: none. Stretch that out to 22 years old and you get two catchers: Johnny Bench in 1970 which was his 3rd year in the league and Brian McCann in 2006 in his first full season, though he was not a rookie. Even going out to the age of 23 there are only 4 more catchers who slugged .500 or greater (Nokes, Carter, Hartnett, Mauer) at such a young age. And yet, James projects Montero is to slug .517 as a 21 year old rookie. Opening this comparison up to all positions there have been 30 seasons (by 23 players) since 1901 to slug .500 or greater at age 21 or younger, again none of them catchers. The list literally is chock full of Hall of Famers as you might expect. Even if James’ projection for Montero were based on him solely DH’ing, you can still see just how historic his line would be.
I am pretty sure that Montero will not reach James’ lofty projections and it’s unfair to expect him to. That will not make him a bust, overrated or a disappointment. Let’s all acknowledge that now. If somehow Montero makes history and hits those projections we will all be beyond thrilled. I can’t wait to see Montero’s first at-bat in the majors and expect to enjoy the ride, I just want to keep things in perspective, which I simply feel James projections do not do.