What Went Right: Jesus Montero

Granderson, Cano headline MLB roster for tour of Taiwan
The Yankees don't want the Yankees to be called the Yankees anymore

Over the next few weeks, we’re going to look back at what went right, what went wrong, and what went as expected during the 2011 campaign.

(Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

The Yankees had an ace up their sleeve all season. An ace capable of doing almost anything they wanted. Need a bat? A pitcher? Something else? Whatever the Yankees needed, Jesus Montero could give it to them. They had the option to insert him into the lineup if the offense needed help, and they also had the option of trading him for an arm if the pitching staff needed reinforcement. Thankfully, the pitching held up and the Yankees held on to Jesus.

The 21-year-old Montero started the season back with Triple-A Scranton, where he’d spent the previous year posting a .375 wOBA with a career high 21 homers in 123 games. He started the year off with a strong April (.365/.360/.473) even though he didn’t draw a single walk, but stumbled through May and early-June (.254/.327/.328). That led to inevitable questions about pretty much everything. His work ethic, his talent, his future with the team, you name it and it was questioned after the worst 205 plate appearance stretch of his career.

The Yankees benched Montero for two games in June due to a “lack of energy,” a few days after returning from an eye infection, fueling the narrative that he was bored with Triple-A life. Pretty much every prospect analyst dropped him in their midseason rankings. Brian Cashman admitted that Montero was a better option than incumbent backup catcher Frankie Cervelli shortly thereafter, but said the team was leaving him in the minors so he could play every single day. It was easy to twist that around and say he was being punished for the poor two months.

Montero returned to the lineup on June 13th, and like he’d done everywhere else in his career, he hit. A homerun in his first game back. Another hit the next day. Then again the next day. And again and again and again. After the benching, Montero hit .314/.376/.533 with 15 homers in 287 plate appearances, a batting line that looks an awful like the .314/.371/.511 he hit from 2007-2010, the first four years of his career. The second half surge put his final season numbers at .288/.348/.467 (.356 wOBA), and yet he had remained in Triple-A even though the Yankees were having serious DH problems at the big league level.

The Yankees finally righted a wrong (depending on who you ask) on September 1st, promoting Montero to the big leagues for the first time. They didn’t hold him back either, he started that night at DH in Fenway Park against Jon Lester in a game where a win would have tied the two teams atop the AL East. Montero’s first career at-bat came with the bases loaded in the first inning, but Lester struck him out. He didn’t have a hit that night, but he did get hit by a pitch in his fifth trip to the plate, and later came around to score the eventual winning run. An 0-for-4 debut is never fun, but it wasn’t completely unproductive.

Used primarily as the regular DH against left-handers, Montero picked up his first career knock in his second career game, a single to left off Ricky Romero. The next day came his first career two-hit game, and the day after that came his first two career homeruns. Both came off Orioles reliever Jim Johnson, a sinkerball specialist (61.5% ground ball rate) that had given up just one homer to a righty in the last calendar year. Montero hit both out to deep right field, showing off the opposite field power we’d heard so much about.

During the final month of the season, Montero hit .328/.406/.590 with four homers (Jered Weaver and Junichi Tazawa gave up the other two) in 69 plate appearances, earning a place on the postseason roster. He only batted twice in the ALDS, picking up hits in the late innings of New York’s Game Four blowout win. The Yankees only let him catch three times after the call-up, a gentle little reminder that there are still questions about his defense behind the plate. There are no questions about the bat though, Montero’s been hitting since the day the Yankees signed him, and his late season showing all but guarantees him a regular lineup spot in 2012, and hopefully many years beyond that.

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Granderson, Cano headline MLB roster for tour of Taiwan
The Yankees don't want the Yankees to be called the Yankees anymore
  • JobaWockeeZ

    What went wrong: Jesus waiting until September

    • Erica

      Co-sign.

    • Steven Jobs

      You mean when he showed up to camp for the second straight season overweight, and hit like crap for three months? Even his April line was weak based on BABIP. His approach was quite poor, which is why he was dropped in all the rankings. Regression when repeating a level is never a good sign.

      For the second straight year he decided to start hitting in June, perhaps after he decided he wasn’t going to be gifted a job in the Majors. He was going to have to work to get it. Let’s hope he shows up in shape in 2012 and decides to dedicate himself to a full year of baseball. Maybe a little more focus behind the plate will also help his defense.

      I am being a little overly harsh, but balance is required. The fan-boyish love for a flawed prospect is overboard.

      And, yeah, if he shows up pudgy again in Spring Training, ship his butt back to AAA. If he wants to be a catcher on the MLB level he better take his conditioning a lot more seriously.

      • JobaWockeeZ

        You mean when he showed up to camp for the second straight season overweight and hit like crap for three months? Even his April line was weak based on BABIP. His approach was quite poor, which is why he was dropped in all the rankings. Regression when repeating a level is never a good sign.

        So you’re going to choose 3 months over his entire minor league career as the basis of his talent? Cool bro.

        For the second straight year he decided to start hitting in June, perhaps after he decided he wasn’t going to be gifted a job in the Majors.
        Yes he obviously decided to suck knowing that it may delay what he wants in the first place: being in the Major Leagues. He enjoys not hitting. He planned not to. Sounds logical.

        I am being a little overly harsh, but balance is required. The fan-boyish love for a flawed prospect is overboard.

        Overly harsh is an understatement, and every fucking prospect in the MLB has flaws which is why they’re prospects in the first place. Seriously? If they were perfect they would be in the Majors right? And so many major league players have a variety of flaws so I don’t know what you could be bitching about.

        Attitude problems? He’s 21. Any extremely talented person at 21 will have their issues. You’re acting like he’s Miggy getting a DUI. A-Rod has his prima donna issues when he was 21 too, what a flawed baseball player he was.

        The main flaw I’m seeing here is this post.

        <bAnd, yeah, if he shows up pudgy again in Spring Training, ship his butt back to AAA. If he wants to be a catcher on the MLB level he better take his conditioning a lot more seriously.

        You go ahead and do that.

        • Monteroisdinero

          He hit .250 in ST, the same as Martin. he would have to have to have hit .450 to come north in April.

          You can argue that he would mature more rapidly in the majors than the minors with better coaches, players, facilities etc.

          Whatever-give him 600 ab’s in 2012 and let’s see what happens.

          • Jetrer

            Spring training stats:
            Montero .250/.286/.300
            Martin .262/.373/.381

            A .586 OPS (and poor defense) isn’t exactly begging for promotion.

        • Jose M. Vazquez..

          Mickey Mantle was just 18 when he arrived in1951. Even at that time I remember he got a lot of hype because he was so good. Guess what? He did not start out too well and had to be sent to the minors before mid-season. When he returned he never went back.

        • Jd

          He is great. Best 21 year old hitter I have seen the Yankees develop in my lifetime. Criticism is legit though.

      • camilo

        jobs is a douche

    • CP

      What advantage would they have had in calling him up earlier?

      They had the best record in the AL. Can’t do much better than that.

      • JobaWockeeZ

        As if they knew that would achieve that in April.

        • CP

          Maybe they did (or at least were very confident that they would). Either way, I don’t see how it went wrong when they would have achieved no better a result had he been up earlier.

  • David Ortiz’s Dealer

    It will be interesting to see how this plays out with Marin’s contract situation, and Montero’s defensive development, I can only assume seeing as much of Austin Romine as we did signified that Montero is a “Work in Progress” with the mask on.

    Maybe a Jose Molina type can be signed to play and mentor, if Martin isnt retained.

    Martin can play some 3B.. have to think 1b in a pinch, so maybe that provides some flexability for Montero to get innings behind the plate. Against a lefty say A-Rod DH, Montero C, Martin 3B.

    • Jetrer

      They seem to want Nunez to get more AB’s, so if ARod is DH against a lefty, Nunez will play third, not Martin. I would fully expect Martin to remain as the primary catcher next year, with Montero mostly DH’ing and C maybe 30-50 games.

    • ARod’s Kid Brother

      Russell is a pending arbitration case so I would think the Yankees would resign him with near zero hesitation.

      I also disagree with signing a defensive guy to mentor Montero. Besides Russell having a decent year behind the plate he’s got Tony Pena with his GG’s and Girardi with his Yankee catching experience.

      • David Ortiz’s Dealer

        I agree with that Yanks are giving the notion of getting Nunez more playing time.

        Martin due to abritration is essentially under control they can sign and have him play 50-50 with Montero if they want. Now 5M (guess) is far to much for a part time catcher, the pittance Montero will even that out.

        At some point if Montero is to be the full time catcher he’ll need to play full time.

        Something has to give, there are only 9 spots in the line up. I don’t think Chavez did anything to be shown the door, but if Nunez plays more in place of ARod while ARod DH’s, where does he fit in. I want Montero to get 500-600 plate apperences, and to catch alot or prove he shouldn’t. So what happens to Martin? Somebody is going to do more sitting than there 2011 has earned them.

        • Jetrer

          My guess: Martin 110-120 games at C
          Montero 100-110 games DH,30-50 games C (about 140-150 games total)
          ARod 120 games 3b, 25-30 games DH (145-150 total if mostly healthy, though likely less because of injuries)
          Nunez, below average hitter and fielder, I really don’t think he did enough to deserve more playing time, but if they insist on it, he can potentially get about 60 starts (or more with injuries) in the infield, and possibly a few more in the OF
          If Montero shows he can handle catching well, then he can take a bigger role at C in 2013. With Martin, really no need for him to be more than a part-time catcher this year.

          • CP

            The problem with this split is that the Yankees are likely to be carrying a backup catcher if Martin will catch and Montero will DH for most games.

            • Jetrer

              I agree, but that BU wouldn’t necessarily play much. Probably start 1 game/week at most. So Martin could go about 105-110, Montero 30-40, and Cervelli (or whoever) 12-27
              Joe seems to like personal catchers, so I could see Martin mostly catching 3 starters, with Montero and Cervelli mostly catching 1 starter each.

  • Erica

    I saw one of those Jesus bombs on 9/24 (blowout vs. Sox) and it was… a religious experience.

  • Jose M. Vazquez..

    Brandon Laird can play third and first. He should be kept on the active 25 man roster. You should also keep Golson and Dickerson. Both are very good defenders and have speed. They could probably improve their hitting under the tutelage of professor Long. I woul have an all triple A bench and see at least for acouple of months what these guys can provide. Only Mariano and Satchel have been ageless wonders. Dimaggio retired at 35. Most other players decline substantially when they reach that age.

    • Monteroisdinero

      I like what you say Jose. You won’t get much love around here but don’t let it bother you.

      • Paul VuvuZuvella (formerly Nuke LaDoosh)

        Ditto

      • Jose M. Vazquez..

        Thanks very much Monteroisdinero. I appreciate it.

  • Gonzo

    No one seems concerned about his splits this year. I don’t blame them, but his OBP was .330 against RHP’s in the minors this year. Any concerns?

    Just a pure guess, but I would imagine that led Joe G. to platoon him.

    • Brian S.

      He’s actually had a reverse platoon split his entire minor league career until this year. I’m not worried at all.

      • Gonzo

        I guess I am one of the few. I guess a Andre Ethier platoon split OPS for a year doesn’t concern anyone.

        Also, the stats vs. LHP’s were never really substantial in quantity.

  • Jose M. Vazquez..

    Yogi may have said that some guys just get old young. Such are the cases of Andruw Jones, Fernando Valenzuela and others that don’t come to mind at the moment. For that reason it is best to go as young as possible.

    • The Humungus

      In truth, Andrew Jones didn’t get old young, he got FAT young …

      • Paul VuvuZuvella (formerly Nuke LaDoosh)

        Fat Drunk and Stupid is no way to go through life, son.

        /DeanWormer’d

  • Darren

    I thought if you werent on the 25 man roster or the Dl, you couldn’t be in the postseason roster. WHy was Montero allowed to be? The rules changes a few years back with respect to post-season roster elligibility, right? (In addition to changing the roster mid series due to injury).

    Can someone elucidate? Mike?

    • Jetrer

      any player currently in the organization by Sept. 1 can replace an injured player on DL. Yankees had several players on DL at the end or the season so that Montero could take their place on the roster.

  • Rich in NJ

    If they are smart enough to hold on to him, I think his career will show that anyone who wanted to trade him was seriously misguided.

  • MannyB ace2be

    Assuming that grandy can continue hitting like 2011 and Jesus lives up to the expectations after his September imagine what grandy, cano, Jesus in the 2,3,4 spots of the lineup can do. Man that’s a scary thought

  • UYF1950

    Mike, is the assumption then that Cervelli is gone? If so, do you see him as being part of a trade and bigger package to potentially get a starter if not a #2 a solid #3? Just curious.

    Other then sending Cervelli back to the minors next year I don’t see a spot for him on the roster with Montero. Although he did sporadically fill in at several different positions if my memories correct.

    • Jose M. Vazquez..

      As Hanna Erhlich explained in a blog a while ago: he can’t hit, he can’t run, he can’t throw. So what are we left with: lots of activity.

      • Jose M. Vazquez..

        I forgot that she also said that he can’t catch(Hanna Ehrlich).

  • DM

    He obviously has a raw talent for hitting the baseball. But everything else is more than suspect. And I think it says a lot that they barely used him behind the plate. You would think that it would be the perfect opportunity to get a good look at his catching but they were still reluctant — even after Cervelli went down. He can’t be a full-time DH here with aging players (like A-Rod) taking ABs in that slot. It’s be the main catcher or get traded for Montero. I know no one here likes the idea, but I think there was some showcasing going on with him. Maybe they avoiding catching him to hide his defense from pro scouts. And to those who think he can play RF, watch him run. If he could’ve been converted to another position to stick with the Yankees, they would’ve made that switch long ago.

    • UYF1950

      DM, I pretty much agree with you. Your exactly right about when Cervelli went down the Yankees call went out to Romine. I really think that Romine is probably the option the Yankees would like behind the plate. And I would not be surprised in the least if come the 2012 trade deadline Montero is on the block for a starting pitcher straight up or as part of a package. With Romine taking over the full time catching duties in 2013. Just a feeling. There just doesn’t seem to be a position on the Yankees team for Montero and “good” DH’ers are a lot easier to find then a solid #2 starting pitcher.

      • Monteroisdinero

        Romine can’t hit. We did ok with Posada catching for 15 years and how many gold gloves did he win?

        • UYF1950

          I’ll give you Romine isn’t a HR hitter but he just turned 22 this past November hasn’t been in Triple A but for 4 games. He seems to have been able to get on base in the minors and he’s a much better defensive catcher then Montero has shown himself to be. I just think if the Yankees had any sort of confidence in Montero they had ample opportunity to give him more shots behind home plate in September then they did. I think that speaks volumes for how they view him.
          In any case the 2012 season will be telling for both players. Romine will show if he can continue to improve in Triple A and potentially be the next full time Yankees catcher. Montero will get an opportunity to do some catching and show if he’s got what it takes to be more than a DH with the Yankees. It’s a win, win for the Yankees in either case.

    • Chen Meng Wang

      Why is it be the main catcher or be traded? It’s not like Alex is going to need 80 games as DH…The only two players that are going to need games at DH are A-Rod and Jeter, combined maybe 50 games…guess whose going to need 40-50 games off over the course of the season? Martin. For those 40-50 games you put Montero behind the plate, otherwise he’s the full time DH.

      • UYF1950

        That may work fine for 2012 but not for 2013 when the Yankees no longer bring Martin back. In 2013 the Yankees in all probability will be looking for a full time catcher. And at this point the Yankees have not shown any indication that Montero is that guy. Now perhaps he can change that perception with the opportunities he gets in 2012. I just don’t think that’s going to be the case. I really do believe that with Romine spending most of the 2012 season in Triple A that when the call comes for a full time catcher he’s more likely to get that call than Montero.

  • Monteroisdinero

    In the next 6 years Montero as a DH will be alot better than Arod as a DH. We shouldn’t let Arod’s contract destroy us as we are held prisoner to it. I am not encouraged that he can stay healthy. The past is ARod-the future is Montero. For another 450K a year-gotta keep Montero. He will be as good a catcher as Posada who caught from age 25/26 to 39. Jesus has a head start on Jorge by 4-5 years.

    We really have little right handed power after Arod.

    The answer to “What went right?” will be.. many of Montero’s HRs.

  • Bart

    Why doesn’t anyone suggest that Montero some outfield in Venezuelan Winter Ball, and then play some outfield for the Yankeees in 2012.

    Yogi Berra had no problem moving from catcher to outfielder when he was around 35 years old. Was Yogi that much more athletic than 21 year old Jesus?

    • UYF1950

      Bart, I mean o disrespect but to compare what Montero may or may not be able to do to Yogi Berra at any age does Yogi a huge disservice. Yogi was a 15 time All Star, he received MVP votes 15 years (was MVP 3 times, 2nd 2 times, 1 time 3rd and 1 time 4th). He consistently threw out between 45 and 55% of base stealers from 1948 at the age of 23 through 1963 at the age of 37. In Yogi’s 18 years with the Yankees he allowed only 76 passed balls, no more than 9 in any one season. Again to say or imply because Yogi did it, Montero should be able to does Yogi Berra and his career a complete disservice. Montero could only hope to have the athleticism of Yogi Berra at almost any age.
      I apologize for feeling strongly about Yogi’s career and comparisons. But I do feel strongly especially when there is an attempt to draw a comparison with a player that has less than 100 ML at bats.

      • Jose M. Vazquez..

        Nobody compares with Yogi. He was the greatest catcher ever. Not Bench. Yogi got 10 rings. Hew was the greatest clutch hitter the game has ever known. That said, ai do not believe people are comparing Yogi to Montero, but just speculating that he could also do some of the things Yogi did. You have to give the kid a chance. Look Mike Napoli had the same rap as Montero, can hit can’t catch. Heck, Mike Scioscia a catcher once let him go. Now he is doing quite well as a catcher and he is much older than Montero.

      • Bart

        UFY1950, the greatness of Yogi Berra cannot be emphasized enough, and I appreciate your taking the time to remind us of Yogi’s greatness and the silliness of comparing Montero to him. You have convinced me that is insulting to Yogi to compare Montero to him.

        But I wanted to make the point that there is precedent for converting a catcher to an outfielder. I’m not sure of the quality of Jesus’s arm. I don’t know how bad his arm can be, given the fact that he has been a catcher in the minor league system for many years. The Yogi comparison reflects the fact that it is not such a “farfetched” idea for the Yankees to try Jesus in the outfield before jetisoning him. It seems as if everyone is of the opinion that he cannot “adequately” play the outfield.

        There have been many great players, who “adequately” played the outfield for many years (e.g. Manny Ramirez) and contributed mightly to their team’s success.

        To trade Montero for Bryce Harper or Steven Strasburg is something that might be worth pursuing. But to trade him for a pitcher who might develop arm troubles, or for a pitcher who will become a free agent in a year or two, is something that the Yankees should think long and hard about.

        • UYF1950

          Bart, I’m sure if or when that day comes the Yankees will have thought long and hard about any such trade. As I’m sure they have already in deciding not to trade him at this point. I’m also fairly sure the Yankees would not trade him unless they can secure the services of a “quality starter” a #1A or #2, and as part of any trade discussions be able to sign that “starter” to a long term deal. I’ve only tried to make 3 points on this and other boards when discussing Montero. First, that as only a DH he’s far more valuable to the Yankees if they can trade him for that “quality” starter I mentioned above. DH’ers are far easier to find then quality starters. Second, every piece I’ve seen and read about Montero both from the Yankees and independent scouts is Montero lacks the athleticism to catch they can’t all be wrong. Which leads me to believe that with the exception of playing 1st base he really isn’t suited for any other position. But that’s just my opinion. Third, if the Yankees felt he was an option at another position I think they would have tried him at one of those “other” positions already. After all it would have been to the Yankees benefit to do that since that would have allowed them to move Romine faster “up the ladder” so to speak. Because Romine has been effectively stimed by having to spend 2 years in Double A because there was no place for Montero with the big league club.
          I firmly believe the Yankees have looked at and evaluated all their options with Montero as they pertain to positions he might play and come up dry. So again if that is indeed the case then Montero is more valuable to the Yankees as a trade option than as a DH. At least that’s my opinion.

          • David K.

            What is the problem with having a potentially great great hitter as your DH for 100 games a year? Use Montero as the backup for 50 games, DH for 100. Have you noticed the crap production we get out of DH the last few years? This guy has Edgar Martinez potential, maybe better. Don’t make a stupid move that will haunt us for the next 12 years.

            • UYF1950

              David, the only problem I see with your scenario is the word “potentially”. I think we need to see how he performs at the ML level after a little more then the roughly 70 AB’s he’s had to date under very controlled situations. Let’s see how he does when he has 2/3 of the 2012 season under his belt. Before we start to use words like “potentially great, great hitter” or “Edgar Martinez potential”.

              And this is just my opinion. But no DH / back up player regardless of the position is worth holding on to if there comes a time when a #1A or very solid #2 starting pitcher becomes available via a trade and can be signed long term. That’s just me. Obviously others on here feel very differently. That’s what makes Yankees fans such a diverse group I guess.