Yankeeist reader Wayne recently asked me to take a look at Jesus Montero, and though we’ve touched on Jesus here and there throughout the offseason, I realized that we haven’t done a thorough Yankeeist look at the Yankees’ most promising hitting prospect in ages, and so I’m happy to oblige.
If you’re a Yankee fan with a pulse, you already know the deal with Montero, so there’s no need to delve into the hype. Right now, the most important nugget of information is that he’s widely considered to be one of the top three hitting prospects in all of baseball. Many feel his bat is already Major League-ready, but his defense remains suspect. Former Rangers scout Frankie Piliere believes Montero is ready to catch at the big league level in 2o11, and the Yankees will undoubtedly give him a fair amount of time to prove himself, as his potent bat will be that much more valuable at catcher. Given that the Yankees have suffered through Jorge Posada‘s “defense” during the last decade, all Montero has to do is be as good as Jorge behind the plate and he’ll be fine. If he can’t even play to a Posada-type level of defense, the Yankees probably have a future DH on their hands — not the worst thing in the world, but you’d like to see Montero be able to contribute on both sides of the ball.
Here’s a look at Montero’s minor league career:
Monumentally impressive. I have to imagine the list of 19-year-olds that put up a .446 wOBA in their first 48 games in High A is pretty small. Montero of course jumped to AA that same season, and ripped the Eastern League apart to the tune of a .407 wOBA over 181 plate appearances. This line is even more awe-inspiring when taking into account the fact that Trenton’s home park is notoriously known as death to hitters.
After a famously slow start this past season — his first in AAA — Montero caught absolute fire in the second half (.351/.396/.684), and finished with a spectacular .289/.353/.517; .375 wOBA line (3.4 WAR) in his age 20 season. One can only imagine how much more amazing Montero’s season would have been had he not slumped so significantly during the first two months of the year (.226/.304/.348 through 46 games).
Here’s a look at his Major League equivalencies for the last three seasons:
On the surface, those aren’t particularly impressive numbers, and I actually think they sell Jesus considerably short. In my experience Sean Smith’s MLEs tend to be inherently pessimistic, and I’m not sure they’re a great indicator of a singular talent like Montero. On the flip side, I’ve also seen the following far more optimistic equivalencies for Montero from The Hardball Times:
These seem a bit too happy in my opinion. If you take the averages of these two sets of equivalencies (his 2010 line averages out to .265/.322/.465) you’d probably get a more realistic interpretation of how Montero’s Minor League numbers would translate at the MLB level.
So what can we expect from Montero at the Major League level in 2011? Despite Wayne’s concerns, if the Yankees deem Montero ready for action either at the beginning of the season or a month or so into the year as many of us expect, I doubt he gets limited to 250 PAs. For one, even if Russell Martin proves his bat is back to being at an acceptable level for a starting catcher, the Yankees have zero interest in continuing to trot Francisco Cervelli out as the back-up, and so Montero should still get plenty of playing time as the backstop. On days when Montero isn’t starting in the field, I imagine Joe Girardi will figure out how to get his bat in the lineup at DH.
s we noted back in November, Bill James has what appears to be a wildly aggressive projection for Montero, calling for the 21-year-old to hit .285/.348/.519; .376 wOBA in 442 PAs. This would require Jesus to essentially duplicate his 2010 at AAA in the Majors, and for as talented as Montero is that just doesn’t seem realistic for any prospect, no matter how much hype they may have attached to their name. In that same James projections post I also noted that Mickey Mantle “only” put up a .360 wOBA in his rookie season, while Joe DiMaggio burst onto the scene with a scalding-hot .410 wOBA in 1936. If Montero somehow did manage to pull that .376 wOBA off, it would rank among the highest debuts for a player in Yankee history.
SG’s considerably more realistic CAIRO projection still has Montero as an above-average contributor, hitting .261/.326/.446; .337 wOBA in 508 plate appearances, which would be worth an impressive 24 Batting Runs Above Replacement (or 2.4 WAR). Even if we penalize Montero at -5 on Defense, which would make him among the worst defenders in the game, he’d still be worth 1.9 WAR, which would be fantastic. For comparison’s sake, The Mick compiled 1.8 fWAR in his rookie season, and he wasn’t a catcher.
The Hardball Times’ Oliver projection system has Montero at .284/.337/.497; .357 wOBA; however those numbers are only across 152 plate appearances. Still, this middle ground projection could actually be the closest. I love CAIRO, but a .337 wOBA might be underrating Montero just a tad; while James and his .376 is crazycakes. Given what we know about Montero’s minor league numbers and Major League equivalencies, Jesus seems like a reasonable bet to end up wOBAing somewhere in the .350s.
Obviously the most important thing for the fanbase with regards to Montero is to exercise patience. Even if he comes up and has a sub-.300 wOBA during his first month or so, it’s critical to be mindful that for all his talent he’ll still only be a 21-year-old playing one of the hardest sports at the highest level in the world. Remember, Robinson Cano — who was much less heralded a prospect than Montero — wOBAed only .282 over his first 89 PAs, so there will almost certainly be an adjustment period for Montero. However, once Jesus finally get comfortable, Yankee fans are going to be in for something truly special.
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