Montero’s cup of coffee

(Kathy Willens/AP)

Despite the competitive overtures, the Yankees’ backup catcher situation, at least in terms of Opening Day, is likely settled. Austin Romine might have made a decent case, but when Joe Girardi announces the 25 men headed to the Bronx on March 31, expect him to call Jesus Montero‘s name. With Francisco Cervelli sidelined for the next few weeks, it’s a sensible temporary option that could aid Montero’s development.

Montero breaking camp with the big league club acts in the same manner as a September call-up. While Montero did spend time with the team last September, he was not placed on the active roster. He can get that experience during the first two to three weeks of the season. During that time he can start six or seven games, giving Russell Martin a rest and perhaps horning in on a start or two at DH. That would not only give him time traveling with the big league club, but would give him 25 or 30 PA of experience.

At that point perhaps the Yankees will have a better idea of what they want to do with Montero. If they think he can be a valuable contributor to the big league club in a part-time role, they can install Cervelli at AAA. If, on the other hand, they think he needs to play every day in order to hone his defensive skills, he can take the shuttle to Scranton and allow for Cervelli’s return. In that way, the cup of coffee acts as both a taste of the big leagues and as a further evaluation period.

The most prominent objection to using Montero as a backup is that it won’t afford him regular at-bats — or, in Montero’s case, regular reps behind the plate. Behind Martin he’d likely play once, maybe twice per week. Combined with a few appearances as the DH, and that amounts to maybe 250 PA during the course of the season. For that reason, I wouldn’t advocate Montero spending the entire season in the bigs unless there was room for him to play every day, preferably behind the plate. But for two or three weeks, there isn’t much downside.

There are really only two negative aspects to utilizing Montero at the start of the season. First is service time. He’ll accumulate some, but if they option him when Cervelli returns it will be a negligible amount. He’s going to end up in the majors at some point this season and will start his arbitration clock. Two or three extra weeks won’t make a huge difference. Second is using an option. If the Yankees called up Montero in, say, June, and kept him up all year, they wouldn’t burn an option. If they use him as the backup they will (assuming they send him down in a few weeks). But if Montero develops as hoped, the options won’t be an issue. They won’t need them anyway.

When the Yankees assembled for spring training it appeared they had clear paths for their catchers. Martin was the starter, Cervelli was the backup, Montero would continue to hone his skills at AAA, and Austin Romine would wait at AA for an opportunity for advancement. Cervelli’s injury threw things off temporarily, but the Yankees can use this as an opportunity. Montero can get a taste of the big leagues before heading to AAA and getting regular reps behind the plate. At the same time, the Yankees can further evaluate their best prospect. Cervelli’s injury might have changed the team’s plans, but it might end up being a net positive.

ST Game Thread: A last look at Sergio?

(AP Photo/Brian Blanco)

As the fourth and fifth starter competition rolls along, it’s tough to see how exactly Sergio Mitre fits into this whole equation. Ivan Nova and Bartolo Colon have shown enough in camp that they should at least be given chances in the regular season, and for whatever reason we keep giving Freddy Garcia the benefit of the doubt. Maybe that lat part is just me.

Anyway, we’ve already talked about the possibility of releasing Mitre, and even though it doesn’t make sense to me, that doesn’t mean it won’t happen. Sergio’s on the hill today, and I suppose it could be the last time he ever pitches in the Yankees uniform. Here’s the lineup…

Curtis Granderson, CFMelky Mesa, CF …  Grandy’s hurt
Nick Swisher, DH
Mark Teixeira, 1B
Andruw Jones, RF
Jesus Montero, C
Greg Golson, LF
Eduardo Nunez, SS
Ronnie Belliard, 2B
Brandon Laird, 3B

Available Pitchers: Sergio Mitre, Joba Chamberlain, Mark Prior, Romulo Sanchez, Luis Ayala, Ryan Pope, Steve Garrison, George Kontos, and Wilkins Arias.

Available Position Players: Gustavo Molina (C), Jose Gil (1B), Ramiro Pena (2B), Doug Bernier (SS), Kevin Russo (3B), Justin Maxwell (LF), Melky Mesa (CF), and Jordan Parraz (RF).

I should probably also mention that Joba will be appearing in his first game since suffering that oblique injury. This Grapefruit League game against the Orioles is being broadcast live on both YES and ESPN at 1:05pm ET. Enjoy.

Granderson scratched with right oblique strain

Via Bryan Hoch, Curtis Granderson will sit out today with a right oblique strain. They’re already calling it a strain, which is never a good sign. We will hear more information after the game, but at this point I think it’s safe to assume a DL trip.

2011 Season Preview: Jesus Montero

(AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

Just about everyone loves prospects, and the Yankees have a doozy on the way this season in the form of Jesus Montero. The 21-year-old’s arrival is probably going to happen a lot sooner than most of us expected thanks to Frankie Cervelli‘s fractured foot, which opened the door for Montero to start the season as Russell Martin‘s backup. Thankfully he’s proven himself at every step of the minor league ladder, finishing the 2010 season by whacking 15 homers in his final 45 Triple-A games. What the 2011 season has in store … well that’s completely up in the air.

Best Case

Buster Posey? Seriously, a rookie backstop putting up a .305/.357/.505 (.368 wOBA) batting line with 18 homers and a measly 13.5% strikeout rate like the Giants’ wunderkind did last year is as good as it gets. But that’s just the offense. Posey’s glovework behind the dish has never really been a major question, but Montero’s certainly has.

(AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

As far as the Yankees are concerned, the best case scenario really has little to do with Montero’s bat in 2011, it’s all about the glove. The best possible thing he could do this season is prove that he’s a Major League caliber catcher defensively, and that means the total package: blocking balls in the dirt, framing pitches, and throwing out attempted basestealers. How that is accomplished, I don’t care. Could be back in Triple-A or under the tutelage of Joe Girardi and Tony Pena at the big league level. Of course this is the best case section, so the latter is preferable.

If everything goes right this year, Montero will be a Rookie of the Year candidate and replace Martin as the starting catcher at midseason. A catcher with a .360-ish wOBA and what amounts to league average defense behind the plate is a four-win player, and the Yankees should do back flips if Montero gives them that in 2011.

Worst Case

Matt Wieters? Don’t get me wrong, I still very much believe in Wieters and his ability to become a well-above-average big league catcher, but the fact remains that the start of the guy’s career has not gone as scripted. In his year-and-a-half with the Orioles, he’s hit just .266/.328/.393 (.315 wOBA), mostly due to a .249/.319/.377 (.303 wOBA) effort in 2011. It’s been both disappointing and frustrating for Wieters and O’s fans alike, but being a young catcher in the AL East is no easy task.

The worst possible thing Montero could do this season is regress, both at the plate and in the field. His defense is already bad enough, to lose any more ground on that front would really put his future role with the team in question. First base is not an option, and designated hitter isn’t exactly the ideal spot for a 21-year-old. Montero’s bat is going to have to carry him, and luckily for him it’s very good, but if advanced pitchers start exploiting a hole in his swing or he starts squeezing sap out of the bat as a nervous rookie, it would only hurt him. If any doubt about his offensive potential starts creeping up, that’s bad news.

The worst possible thing the Yankees could do this season is sell low on Montero or trade him for anything less than a star-caliber player. No one is untouchable, but as Joe has already discussed, you’d have to be getting a stud with a few years of contractual control left to move Montero at this point in the game. Depending on your point of view, the Yanks really dodged a bullet when the Cliff Lee deal fell through last July, because there’s a very real chance they’d have lost Montero for half-a-season of the lefty.

Not quite the MFIKY stare, but close. (AP Photo/David Goldman)

What’s Likely To Happen

The recent track record of 21-year-old catchers in the big leagues is basically non-existent. Brian McCann is the most notable example, hitting .278/.345/.400 in 204 plate appearances for the Braves in 2005, though he was a midseason call-up. Joe Mauer, Dioner Navarro, and Yadier Molina are the only other 21-year-olds to get as many as 100 plate appearances in the show in the last 15 years. So yeah, Montero is about to join some exclusive company.

Although his skill set portends a middle-of-the-order bat, the Yankees don’t need Montero to be that guy just yet. Like they did with Jorge Posada over a decade ago, it’s likely that they’ll break their new toy in slowly, giving him a few starts a week behind the plate and gradually build him up to a full season workload. Prospects, even ones that rank among the very best in the game, are highly unpredictable at the Major League level early in their career. They’ll break your heart more often than not. Montero is no different, and in all likelihood he’ll take some lumps after being dropped into the thick of the AL East at his age.

I’m not going to throw out some numbers and offer a prediction of what Montero will produce this year, but I will say that I don’t expect him to come out and hit like Posey right out of the gate, nor do I think he’ll fall flat on his face. If he hits for a little bit of average and power while showing he’s not completely useless behind the plate, I’d consider it a win. If he doesn’t hit right away, who cares, he’ll go back to the minors to find his game, it happens all the time. In no way would it be a sign that he’s not cut out for the big leagues or something, not this early in his career.

Looking ahead to some 2011 milestones

The cool part about being a Yankees fan is all the history we get to witness. Last season we got to see Alex Rodriguez become just the seventh man to hit 600 homers (and the sixth to hit 610), and the year before we watched Derek Jeter march up the list of career hits as a Yankee, eventually supplanting Lou Gehrig as the leader. The 2011 season won’t be any different, with a few very big milestones on tap.

Everyone and their mother knows that Jeter is closing in on 3,000 career hits, and Ben did a fine job pinpointing when that historic hit may come. That one will surely take the cake, overshadowing any other noteworthy career accomplishments that take place. Here’s a few of those other milestones that have a chance to be reached during the 2011 season…

(AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

A-Rod – 630 HR & 1,900 RBI
Alex’s assault on various record books will be fun to watch in the coming years, and this season he has a chance to both tie and surpass former teammate Ken Griffey Jr.’s career total of 630 homers, moving him into sole possession of fifth place all time. He’s 17 long balls away from tying Junior. The RBI total isn’t as historic but is impressive nonetheless; just ten men have driven in 1,900 or more runs in there careers. A-Rod is just 69 away from that total, and if drives in a hundred runs on the nose, he’ll end this season in sole possession of eighth place on the all-time RBI list, right between Ty Cobb (1,938) and Jimmie Foxx (1,922). Only three men have ever driven in 2,000 runs in their careers (Hank Aaron, Babe Ruth, and Cap Anson), a group Alex is on pace to join a year from now.

Mariano Rivera – 600 saves
Trevor Hoffman lays claim to the most saves in baseball history, but I think everyone agrees that Rivera is best closer reliever the game has ever seen. He notched his 500th career save against the Mets in 2009, but he’ll need some serious help getting to 600 this summer: he’s 41 away. That doesn’t sound like much, but Mo has saved 40+ games in a single season just once in the last five years. With his age continually creeping up and Rafael Soriano there to vulture some save opportunities (I don’t think we’ll see Mo work three consecutive days all that often in 2011), this one might be on hold until 2012.

(AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

Mark Teixeira – 300 HR & 1,000 RBI
Last season we watched Tex club his 250th career homerun on his 30th birthday, and he now sits just 25 away from that nice round number, number 300. He’s also 94 RBI away from a thousand on his career, another nice round number. There are 122 members of the 300/1,000 club, but just 41 did it before their 32nd birthday. Barring injury or a total offensive breakdown, Tex will make it 42 this year.

CC Sabathia – 170 wins
We all know that wins are a stupid way to evaluate pitchers, but I do think they are somewhat telling over the course of a career. A high win total speaks to longevity, durability, and an overall positive performance, otherwise the guy wouldn’t have kept a job. Even if you don’t agree, the players appreciate the stat and put stock in their career totals. Sabathia is still only 30 years old, but he already has more career wins (157) than Doug Drabek and Dizzy Dean, among others. If CC gets those 13 wins to bring his career total to 170, he’ll have passed guys like Ron Guidry (170, okay tied), Brett Saberhagen (167), and Sandy Koufax (165). The number of pitchers to win 170 games before their 32nd birthday in the expansion era is just 16, and 13 of them either are or will be in the Hall of Fame.

* * *

Those are the big numbers, the ones with some historical value, be it large or small. Here’s a few other miscellaneous milestones, ones that will have more value at the personal level…

(AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

Pedro Feliciano – 500 appearances
Relievers are so damn volatile and have such short shelf lives that 500 career appearances in the big leagues really is an accomplishment. Hell, one appearance in the show is an accomplishment. Feliciano needs to get into just 41 games to reach 500, a number 253 men have reached in the last 39 years.

Nick Swisher – 200 doubles & 500 RBI
Some more nice round numbers, Swish is 15 away from the former and five away from the latter. Hooray for him.

Brett Gardner – 100 steals
Gardner made up some nice ground on this minor milestone last season, swiping 47 bags in his first full season as a big league starter. He stands 14 away from the century mark, and if he doesn’t get that in April, send him to the minors. (Kidding)

Freddy Garcia – 150 wins
Getting halfway to 300 is a pretty big accomplishment, but I think we’d all be stunned if Sweaty Freddy a) wins the necessary 17 games in 2011, and/or b) even makes 17 starts for the Yankees this summer.

Jesus Montero – first career everything
This should be fun.