Things started out great in Spring Training for Jesus Montero. He was showing off the defensive strides he made last year, earning the praise of his ex-catcher manager. Looking much more comfortable behind the dish, there was even talk of bringing him north with the club as the backup Catcher, where he’d start once or twice a week as Catcher and maybe get a game in here or there as DH. Seemed like a good fit. Russel Martin is a fine defensive catcher, but has regressed the past two seasons as a hitter. An offensive oriented backup could be paired with starting pitchers who are less demanding to catch, facing teams that don’t run all that often, and provide some pop with his potent bat. He can work on his catch and throw skills in side sessions with Tony Pena, who was a terrific defensive catcher in his own right and is as good a coach as he’ll have in AAA, if not better. The Yanks said Jorge Posada broke in to the big leagues this way, so why not Jesus?
But things went quickly south for Jesus in camp. As March progressed, when the low level prospects getting a look in camp are weeded out and the MLB players start getting up to speed, it became clear to the Yanks that Jesus wasn’t ready for The Show just yet. Brian Cashman spilled the beans this past week:
“He hasn’t played well recently,” Cashman said after watching Montero catch in Tuesday’s 6-2 loss to the Orioles. “He’s better than what he’s shown recently, catching-wise.
“He’s been struggling with the bat, and I don’t know if it’s cause-and-effect. I just know that last year he didn’t start catching well (in Triple-A) until he started hitting. And from June on, both went through the roof.”
..scouts say Montero’s defense has slipped again – that he’s not moving well behind the plate, getting crossed up on pitches, rushing his throws, and generally giving off an indifferent vibe with his work habits.
“He’s not a natural,” one scout said Tuesday, “so his focus, his interest level, always has to be at a high level for him to be adequate as a catcher. If he was hitting, he’d probably look a lot better back there.”
Joe Girardi chalked some of this up to “pressing” or at least that what he’s saying publicly. But the choice of Gustavo Molina over Montero speaks volumes about what the Yanks really think about his glove. This isn’t about Jesus not hitting this spring. You can’t argue that they chose Gustavo Molina because he plays good defense and hits enough, he doesn’t. Gustavo Molina is a career .122/.159/.146 (.302 OPS) hitter who has a grand total of 1 hit this spring. This is a purely defensive decision for the MLB club, where they’re simply biding time for Cervelli to return.
Jesus Montero would have been a perfect fit to back up Russell Martin, whose doubts are primarily about his ability to hit after the past two seasons. All Montero needed to show was that he was a better option than Frankie Cervelli. We all know he’s a better hitter than Frankie, Montero’s task this spring was to show the Yanks they could entrust a high priced MLB rotation to him, and he didn’t. The Yanks clearly want Jesus to spend time playing everyday in AAA working on his glove. One has to wonder if the consensus among scouts about Montero’s defense is coming to bear. At 21 years old this story is far from being written, but if Jesus can’t stick at Catcher on a championship level club, his value will be maximized by trading him for a position of need. How the first half of the Yankees 2011 season plays out for both the MLB club and Jesus Montero in AAA will in all likelihood determine whether or not his future is with the Yankees, or somewhere else.
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