Lots of digital ink has been spilled discussing the Yankees’ handling of Jesus Montero over the past few weeks, with many reasonable people coming to different conclusions about when the 21 year-old catcher should be promoted to the bigs. A number of people (myself included) were unsatisfied with Montero’s offensive line at AAA (OPS’ing in the .750 range with an increased strikeout rate and a decreased walk rate), and reports about his boredom gave reason to be concerned about his maturity. I personally was hesitant to reward his slacking off with a promotion. Plus there did not seem to be much progress in his defense, and catching full-time might be necessary to help him improve.
On the other side, many people were concerned about the putrid offensive production from Jorge Posada at the DH spot, along with Francisco Cervelli at the backup catcher position (not to mention Russell Martin as the starter), and saw a spot for Montero as a part-time DH and backup catcher. The Yankees had an immediate offensive void exacerbated by Alex Rodriguez’s injury, and Montero was the top hitting prospect to fill in.
Montero’s 2010 was very similar to this season in that he got off to an uninspiring start, but picked it up around the trade deadline. In 2010, many attributed Montero’s resurgence to the near-trade to the Mariners for Cliff Lee. This season, Montero’s OPS has been over .900 in July (he’s homered in his last two games), and he is beginning to produce in a way that befits his status as a top prospect in the minor leagues. With Posada still looking punchless and Alex Rodriguez still a few weeks away from being back, Montero’s resurgence will certainly reinforce the calls for his promotion.
If Montero is able to continue this strong performance over the next few weeks, I would be able to look more favorably at calling him up. I realize I’m not necessarily operating with huge sample sizes here, but I wanted to see him come to the bigs while he is on a roll, has some confidence, and is taking a good approach at the plate. If his earlier struggles were the result of pressing or a bad approach, I wanted him to show that he could adjust to some adversity and put in the effort to improve. I really never cared much about the lazy/bored storyline, I just wanted to see Montero put it together on the field.
If Montero continues to surge, he will certainly force the Yankees to make a decision about promoting him sooner rather than later, though I imagine he will be up September 1 no matter what (when the roster expand). There are several other factors that could influence how quickly Montero makes it to the bigs including the health of Alex Rodriguez and the performance of Jorge Posada. If A-Rod is slow to recover and a little limited after the surgery, we could see Girardi play him more often at DH, which would take at-bats away from Montero. Similarly, if Jorge Posada goes on another hot streak, the Yankees might be tempted to ride it out and keep Montero soldiering away in AAA.
Of course all this is moot if Montero is traded, or if the Yankees add a big bat to fill the DH spot. I don’t see either scenario happening. Montero is likely not being traded because outside of Ubaldo Jimenez there has not been an ace starter rumored to be on the market, and the price for Jimenez is simply too steep. As for a bat, the only definitive upgrade who is likely to be traded is Carlos Beltran or maybe Hunter Pence, but I don’t see the Yankees pulling the trigger on either guy. If the current situation persists (Posada continuing to struggle and Montero raking) the Yankees may have to make a difficult choice to bench (or DFA) a franchise icon, and throw their top prospect into the heart of a pennant race. I’d like him to keep working on his defense, but at a point, the needs of the big league club to have to take priority. Any predictions on when Montero makes his Yankee debut? Over/under August 15?
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