He’s the #1 prospect in Yankeedom, and not by a small margin. Montero hit an eye-popping .339/.389/.562 between Tampa and Trenton this season. And he turns 20 at the end of November. But just how good is Jesus Montero? I think that we need to answer three questions:
1. Is he a MLB catcher?
2. How good was his hitting season?
3. How much should we consider Montero’s age?
Is he a MLB catcher?
This is the most important question to ask regarding Montero. The man can hit, and with all probability will hit in the major leagues. Even if things go wrong, Montero will hit well enough to be valuable at the catcher position. But can he remain behind the plate? Here is Montero’s defensive statistics from Baseball-Reference:
|2009||19||2 Teams||2 Lgs||AA-A_adv||C||59||458||423||33||2||4||.996||7.73||11||86||22||20%|
|C (3 seasons)||C||153||1228||1124||97||7||7||.994||7.98||26||165||48||23%|
As always, we can’t tell a whole lot from basic catcher statistics. However, at first glance, we can see that Montero appeared to get worse across the board in 2009. His pass ball rate rose, and he threw out fewer batters. However, the Yankees haven’t even tried Montero at another position. This may be because they are entirely focused on his hitting, but I think their confidence has to be worth something. Montero is not just way ahead of the age curve at the plate, but also behind it. Catchers have a lot more learning to do when they move up to higher levels of competition, and its very possible that Jesus Montero is lagging a bit behind. Still, the signs aren’t yet encouraging.
How good was his 2009 season?
Fucking awesome. While injuries and the limitations of catching held Montero to 92 games, Jesus Montero impressed even his biggest critics. Think about it this way: his stats, extrapolated out to 160 games; 30 home runs, 43 doubles, 200 hits, 121 RBIs, 80 strikeouts and 50 walks. Montero improved his strikeout rate, home run stroke, batting average, and knocked in a ton of runners. And he did it in two tough hitting leagues in tough ballparks while playing guys much older than him. His strikeout rate impresses me more than anything.
Think of it this way: Had Montero stayed in the Florida State League for the whole season, his OPS would have topped the 2nd place leader by 165 points. Had he qualified for the Eastern League batting title, Montero’s OPS would have been good enough for 2nd highest, losing by 34 points to fellow super-hitting-catcher-sensation prospect Carlos Santana. Santana, a sure-fire top-50 prospect and potential all-star, is 3 and a half years older than Jesus Montero. Yeah, Jesus is that good.
How much should we consider age?
I can’t remember the last player at this age to hit this well at this level. But does that matter? Montero has been training intensely with the New York Yankees since he was 16, and has quite a bit of minor league experience under his belt. His performance, if we regarded the same way we regard a 21-22 year old right out of college, is in line with what guys like Pedro Alvarez, Matt Wieters, Jason Heyward, Buster Posey, Gordan Beckham, and Matt LaPorta have produced at the same levels. In other words, Jesus Montero is playing like a well-seasoned, top-10 college hitter.
Jesus Montero has a ton of talent, and has worked with some very good coaches in the past 3-4 years with the Yankees. He probably is more polished than a comparable college player at his age would be. Montero would be eligible for the draft in June had he gone to college. That said, he can probably still expect a great deal of physical maturity in the next couple of years. Montero was not born a Rodriguez-like super-athlete, but like anyone he will respond to strength, conditioning, and growth over time. What does this mean? Look at this graph:
[image title="Jesus Montero Hr by Age" size="full" id="8055" align="none" ]
There is no reason to believe that Montero can’t keep up the power-gaining pace that he has been on. If he improved at the same rate that he has been improving at, Montero would hit 45-50 home runs over 162 games in 2010.
Bottom line: There’s a pretty good chance that Montero can hit like Prince Fielder. And while he won’t win any gold gloves, he’s also not nearly as fat as Fielder. We’re looking at a prospect on the same level as the above-mentioned super prospects. Even if he can’t catch.
Take that, BA.
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