The Miguel Cabrera Comp

Yanks take over first place with win over Jays
Game 137: A-Rod's back, again

When the news arrived that Jesus Montero would be called up to the big-league squad, Joel Sherman was on hand with a typically well-sourced article providing insight into the organization’s thinking about Montero’s role this season. Sherman noted that Montero would become the regular designated hitter against left-handed pitching, meaning that the team would like platoon Gardner and Jones in left field or simply give Jones fewer at-bats. He also suggested that Montero could eventually hit his way into the regular designated hitter slot, against righties and lefties alike. The money quote came from one of Sherman’s usual “sources within the Yankee organization”: “One Yankees official acknowledged Montero is coming with a chance to win a significant job and another member of the organization said definitively, “By the playoffs, he will be our best DH option.””

Another interesting part of the column came when Sherman brought up Miguel Cabrera as a comparison for Montero. This comparison has been bandied about elsewhere before, and in fact Brian Cashman himself mentioned Cabrera when talking about Montero’s future upside to ESPN’s Ian O’Connor: “In terms of hitting ability, Montero can be a Manny Ramirez or a Miguel Cabrera…He has a chance to bat third or fourth. He has the potential to be a beast in the middle of our lineup.”

The Cabrera comparison is an intriguing one, to be sure, and there are a few interesting parallels between the start of each player’s respective career. Despite the fact that Miguel Cabrera was well-regarded as a very talented prospect, he had a far less impressive minor league track record than Montero. As a teenager, Cabrera never put together an OPS higher than .754 at any level of minor league competition. The Marlins stayed confident in his skill though, and moved him to Double-A to start the 2003 season. It was there that the light went on, that his talent took over, that he finally got it, however you’d like to frame it, and Cabrera started raking. In a half season of baseball he hit .365/.429/.609 in 303 plate appearances. That June, the Marlins called Cabrera up directly from Double-A.

He began his career in an interleague matchup with the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, in a game managed by Jack McKeon (FLA) and Lou Piniella (TBR), one in which a 21 year-old Carl Crawford tripled. Still wet behind the ears, Cabrera nevertheless homered in his first game, a walkoff shot in the bottom of the 11th. It wasn’t too shabby of a start for the kid. It wasn’t all walkoffs and heroics from there on out, of course. Cabrera struggled for the rest of June and ended the month with an OPS of only .542. Over the next few months, Cabrera would go alternatingly hot and cold, flashing a load of power but not a ton of on-base skill. A quick breakdown of his OPS by month shows a streaky hitter finding his way around major league pitching:

June: .542

July: .991

August: .640

September: .875

By October the Marlins were in the playoffs, and they brought the youngster along for the ride. While he still wasn’t walking a ton, he managed to club four home runs, one off Roger Clemens in the World Series. Along with Josh Beckett, Mike Lowell, Brad Penny, Carl Pavano and Dontrelle Willis, Miggy hoisted his first and only World Series trophy that fall as the Marlins defeated the Yankees. The team became history fast, broken up by an owner not willing to pay the players commensurate with their market values. Cabrera was the last rat off the sinking ship, sent to Detroit in the winter of 2007-2008, where he’s flourished as a perennial MVP candidate ever since.

There’s always a danger in making a comparison to a big leaguer, successful or otherwise. No two players are alike. Yet as long as the comparisons are couched in a healthy dose of realism, I don’t necessarily see the problem in throwing up this comp as an example of what once happened when a much-hyped prospect with talent oozing out of his ears got called up for a pennant race. At the end of the day, a comp is just an analogy, or a metaphor. I’m not a neuroscientist and I’m not an expert on how the brain develops, but in my experience telling a 10 year-old “These Doritos are dynamite” would cause him to ask for one, not run in fear. Hopefully fans can be similarly discerning. Kevin Long’s message about the Cabrera comparison is probably the perfect mix of recognizing Jesus’ insane talent level and hedging it with all the necessary qualifications:

“It is fair [because of his talent] to say he can do it [be like Cabrera],” Long said. “But there are so many intangibles that go along with success here. So do I expect that kind of impact? No. Can it happen? Yes. But it is unfair to put expectations on someone who has not done it. But this is someone with as much hitting upside as anyone in the minors.”

Jesus Montero isn’t Miguel Cabrera. Sure, they’re both right-handed Venezuelan bonus babies with similar body type, batting swings, and prodigious power, but of course they’re two different people. They will have different career paths. Yet, the start of their careers looks just similar enough to merit mentioning, and perhaps provides a guideline for expectations as the team chugs towards the playoffs. Perhaps Montero will exceed expectations and be Miggy in July and September of 2003; perhaps he’ll flounder and be the Miggy of June and August; perhaps he’ll be a little of both. Perhaps he’ll homer off Doc Halladay and help the Yankees take home another World Series crown, or maybe he’ll miss the postseason roster. Isn’t that tension really what it’s all about, though? Is there anything more exciting than hoping that the best-case scenario will actually play out and get realized in dramatic, awesome fashion? And isn’t that why we keep coming back for more, even when those hopes are dashed and expectations aren’t met, and the game breaks our heart?

Yanks take over first place with win over Jays
Game 137: A-Rod's back, again
  • Dave

    I was surprised at how slim, athletic and fast Montero looked on Thursday. Had never seen him before — just read the reports. If it’s true he can move fairly well, and if it’s also true that the Yankees really believe he can be a Cabrera/Ramirez at the plate, doesn’t it make sense to see if he can make it in the outfield? Even if he can be okay behind the plate, if he’s that good a hitter I might rather extend his career several years, (not even including the lesser risk of injury) by playing him in right field, especially considering the number of other catchers coming up behind him.

  • nsalem

    My only questions are If he doesn’t become a Cabrera or Manny out of the gate will the organization have the patience to wait a year or two years? New York is unlike any other place and as is our fan base. Our first baseman who is in the top 5 in RBI’s and HR’s is getting annihilated on this board. How will Jesus react to short term failure that even most great ones have?

    • Bavarian Yankee

      I think they’ll be patient with him. And comparing Montero to Teixeira doesn’t make sense. Tex was a legit .300 hitter, now he’s a popup machine. I mean as long as he hits homers it’s acceptable but if his average stays down he can’t be our No.3 hitter.

      I’d move Cano to 3rd and Tex to 5th today if I could.

    • steve (different one)

      The fact that they didn’t trade him, when everyone was convinced he had fallen out of favor, is a good sign.

      • Jonathan

        I honestly think that was more of a situation where there wasn’t anybody worth trading him for. They were obviously willing to trade him for 2 months of Cliff Lee last year when everyone thought he had fallen out of favor for the first time. If there was a legitimate ace on the trade market I don’t think we would have ever seen him in pinstripes, unless he signed later as a FA. I mean the options were trading for Ubaldo who has some serious red flags and holding on to him. Considering the Rockies wouldn’t let us check his arm and the whole NL to AL switch and the fact that they would even listen on him were all more than good enough reasons not to pull the trigger. The only option worth trading him for was possibly Lee and they tried to

  • bpdelia

    The one thing that REALLY jumped out at me finally watching Montero?

    HOly cow is he YOUNG. I mean he looks like he’s 21. You can dream on this kids body. I personally am in much better shape at 25 than I was at 21 as far as strength and mass.

    If MOntero has any work ethic at all he will be adding 20 pounds of strength over then next 5 years or so. By the time he is in his prime (should he not get fat) he will have off the charts natural power.

    He’s already clearly insanely strong and his swing is easy, fluid, effortless. REminds me of when I would watch a yong John olerud take batting practice. I turned to my brother and said (he’s not even swinging hard. Looks like he isn’t trying.”

    Thats what Montero has, a swing that looks like he isn’t swinging hard but generates bat speed anyway.

    21 is so insanely young. Especially for a baseball player. And especially one that has been basically told to focus almost exclusively on his defense for the last 4 years.

    He looks to me like a future top notch power hitter. And his walk rates are encouraging enough to make me believe it’ll be right around league average by his 5th or 6th season

    • Bavarian Yankee

      I was really surprised how thin he is, I thought he weighs more.

      • The Big City of Dreams

        Lost weight since ST.

  • bpdelia

    that should have said “much better shape at 35 than 21”

    I wish i was 25.

  • JFH

    I hope he becomes great. But I think it is unrealistic to expect he is the next Cabrera during his career even that he makes a major contribution this year. We can hope, but who knows how it will pan out?

  • Bavarian Yankee

    he doesn’t have to be the next Miggy. If he’s the next Jorge I’ll take that any day.

  • Monteroisdinero

    Montero is thinner and seemingly faster (based on the one game at Boston) than I have seen him in 2 years at Scranton and ST. When you look at pics of Jeter and ARod at 21 (and many others of course) the increase in muscle mass is striking as they move into their mid-late 20’s. I think Montero will be fine as a catcher but perhaps can play an adequate rf with a lot of off season and ST work. That position should be available sooner than 1B with Tex being around for 6 more years. Can’t wait for him to show some power at the plate.

    today will be fine.

    • CP

      I would be more concerned about his quickness and flexibility in regards to staying at C than I would be about his weight or speed.

      • Monteroisdinero

        He is as quick as other big catchers I can compare him to such as Wieters and Mauer. I think he will surprise folks behind the plate. He has a strong arm. He has 4 years on Posada at this point in catching development. Obviously calling a game and scooping out AJ pitches etc. isn’t as easy and he will struggle for awhile. He is far from flawless but I truly think he will be fine back there and can DH from time to time to be rested.

    • Mike HC

      Yea, it seems like he lost some of that baby fat this year.

    • j

      But if Montero plays RF where will Matt Kemp play?

  • Graham lloyd


  • Adam B

    I hate that they only have him hit against lefties, he has to get experience against all pitchers, not just lefties. If he isn’t hitting righties, how is he supposed to grow?

    • Mike HC

      I think getting everybody ready for the their post season roles is the priority over getting Montero experience. He will get plenty of at bats next year. This September should be about figuring out where everyone fits in on the post season roster. And winning games, of course.

  • dalelama

    My impressions of Montero good and bad—he was much thinner and more atheletic looking than RAB info sources lead me to believe on the other hand he did look overpowered in his debut.

    • Mike HC

      To be fair, jumping from AAA, to Jon Lester at Fenway Park in the middle of a Yanks-Sox pennant race late in the year, is nothing short of Fing absurd.

      The natural would have struggled with that jump.

      • Mike HC

        As I wrote in the off topic thread being half serious, it is almost as if the Yanks wanted to humble him a little bit at the get go/

        • Monteroisdinero

          Interesting thought-try to motivate him by failure and deal with 2 HR’s if he hits them! Less pressure now until we play Boston again.

          • Mike HC

            Everyone told the Yanks how “bored” he was in AAA, how he felt he was above that, so they said, ok buddy, how about this (being Lester at Fenway during pennant race).

            And yea, they would have dealt with 2 dingers just fine too^

    • Andrew Brotherton

      To your comment about him looking overpowered. He was facing one of the top 5 lefties in the game. A legitimate top 10 starting pitcher in baseball, a lot of great hitters look overmatched against Jon Lester. The fact that he got good wood on a few of those pitches including some nice fly balls to the opposite field shows that he really isn’t overmatched and just needs some reps. The more at-bats they give him the better in the next month. I also could see him gaining 20 to 25lbs of muscle this offseason with the help of Arod and Kevin Long he could become a monster as soon as next year.

      • JFH

        One does not add 20-25 lbs of muscle on the span of an off season. Even with roids that wouldn’t happen.

        • JohnnyC

          Derek Lowe gained 25 pounds in the offseason after the 2001 season. He said it was through weight-lifting 4 days a week for 3 solid months. Red Sox players would never use roids.

          • JFH

            No. Never would they use roids. It is all a gritty mentality and phenomenal work ethic.

          • Rich in NJ

            Red Sox players would never use roids.

            They don’t need to because the national baseball media hype makes them seem bigger than they really are.

            • JMK

              This comment is a win.

          • Dino Velvet

            Fucking Smear Job!



      • Now Batting

        It’s impossible to gain 25 pounds of muscle in one offseason, let alone two years

    • Dino Velvet

      “My impressions of Montero good and bad—he was much thinner”

      The food is no good in the minors. There’s no pre game and post game meals cooked by a top chef ( On the road, they lead the high life (Ritz Carlton room service, Chez Panisse dinners, night clubs, bars).

      So he’ll be putting on a few pounds in the near future.

  • infernoscurse

    id be happy if hes the next billy butler, anything more is just great though

  • China Joe

    One of the things with Montero is that he’s spent almost an unprecedented amount of time in the spotlight before reaching the big leagues…at least among Yankee prospects, only Phil Hughes compares. He signed that huge contract at 16, and came up in the golden age of prospect-watching. This sort of thing didn’t used to happen as much in baseball…it actually reminds me more of college football, where a big time high school recruit plays 3 or 4 years in the national spotlight before making the NFL, and fans and analysts have years to pick apart their flaws. Remember Peyton Manning’s last year at Tennessee? He came back for a 4th season, didn’t win the Heisman, and half the NFL “experts” thought Ryan Leaf might be the better choice. I see some similarities with the way people criticize Montero…not the defensive criticisms (which are legit), but with a lot of the so-called “attitude” problems. The kid was in AAA this year because of Jorge, period, not because he wasn’t working or was some kind of egomaniac. The kid has always hit and he’s gonna hit in the big leagues…just maybe not this season.

  • CS Yankee

    Great article.

    I was too in awe by how slim he looked. 21 and playing in the biggest light is pretty cool, but as he fails it will be interesting to see how he responds.

    Odds are against him, but he is trying to play the toughest position in baseball, with the brightest lights on him for the most successful team in all of sports…that’s a big deal for anyone, but bigger deal for a 21 year old.

  • Jesse

    I have my money on him being the next Victor Martinez, except with a little more power. I think the Yankees will use Montero like Martinez in where he can catch, DH, or play first base. I’d be very happy if that were to come true.

  • Rainbow Connection

    Did I see the Miggy comp plenty of times here at RAB?

  • JB

    As much as I want to see Montero, its not like A. Jones is doing bad in the DH spot against lefties. I know Jones may get some time in left or right, but he seems like the odd man out here, and I’m not sure that’s fair or right for the team in September.

  • j6takish

    Man, that 2003 Marlins team was pretty incredible when you look back on the roster. Every single position player/pitcher went on to have atleast a semi productive career, most of them ended up being above average players. Teams don’t come together like that very often

  • Steve S.

    Miguel Cabrera?

    You mean he’s a drunk?