On Sunday, Yankee fans finally got to see Jesus start a game at Catcher for ourselves. We have long heard named and unnamed scouts refer to his ”big league ready bat” and poor defensive skills, some even saying he’s not a big league Catcher. We’ve seen that bat of his bat in recent days on glorious display, showing few holes in his offensive game (other than a mildly annoying tendency to be 0-2 seemingly every AB) and a wonderful ability to drive the ball to all fields, off varying types and locations of pitches. But the defensive questions persist, so on the occasion of Sunday’s debut behind the plate I wanted to see for myself if his catching liabilities were something you can live with, or if he is so bad back there that he will cost you runs. Here are my impressions of his initial game behind the dish:
Overall Technique-Doesn’t hide throwing hand much, if at all. Catchers will often do this to ‘cheat’ a bit on the ball to glove transfer when attempting to throw out base runners, especially with a man on 1B. But I didn’t see him hide his hand once all day, which exposes him to injury unnecessarily. Remember what happened to Jorge Posada last year? On July 5th, he sprained his ring finger by taking a foul ball off his hand. It was the 6th time in his career that he had sustained a hand injury, mostly due to foul balls off his exposed hand. Proper technique for Catchers is to tuck the throwing hand behind the leg just as the pitch comes in, which makes it almost impossible for foul balls to hit the hand. Many MLB Catchers will fail to tuck the hand on occasion, but Jesus doesn’t seem to make any attempt to follow this basic protocol. Another note, he’s a little ‘busy’ back there which most pitchers don’t like. Bobs up and down a bit, as if trying to gain forward momentum should he need to make a throw. Most pitchers like throwing to a completely still target. He’s not quite a dancing bear back there, but there’s more movement than you’d like to see.
Throwing out baserunners-He threw out the one of the three base runners who attempted to steal on him, though he only made one throw. One runner advanced as he lost the handle on a breaking ball. The one throw he made wasn’t exceptional, it was a bit high, Cano had to reach a bit, but overall it was strong and pretty accurate. Garcia paid a lot of attention to base runners on Sunday, so he helped the cause. Its way too small a sample to say anything definitive, other than Montero flashed some good skills with a strong arm on one play, and his shaky receiving skills cost him on another.
Passed Balls/Wild Pitches-The wild pitch/passed ball which allowed a run to score was a play where Jesus was clearly crossed up. He held the glove open and just under his chin as if expecting a fastball, then had to react to what appeared to be a splitter in the dirt. Whether he screwed up the sign, forgot which fingers he put down, or if Garcia was to blame we’ll never know. But it was obvious to me that he was expecting a different pitch than the one that was thrown, and most often that’s on the Catcher. He’s had a reputation in the minors for not always staying focused, and there were plenty of base runners out there distracting him at the time of the play. To be fair, he made a number of other nice blocks on splitters in the dirt and the splitter can dance in unpredictable ways. He will always be prone to the passed ball, mostly due to his size. He’s so big and he crouches with his legs wide apart in order to get his body into the strike zone. That means both legs have a long way to go when he wants to close them quickly. A better crouch would be leaning forward with his legs closed, but then his size would present problems to the home plate Umpire for getting the calls on low strikes. There really isn’t a good answer unless he finds a way to get more flexible back there and/or react more quickly.
Framing pitches-I’d say he was average. Not good, but not bad either. He moves the glove a little bit too often and too soon, as if unsure of his own ability to catch an errant pitch. He sets a target then starts to drift a bit, but its nothing major. Again, a good catcher is very still back there and makes subtle movements to squeeze out an extra strike here and there. I didn’t see Montero steal any 3rd strike calls, but didn’t find cause to blame him on the borderline pitches either.
Overall grade-C-minus. A lot of issues to work on, some that I’m not sure if he will ever fix. The lack of some easy, basic techniques lead me to wonder about his commitment to getting better. Getting replaced in the 7th inning by Austin Romine (who looked good) says a lot about what his coaches and manager thought of his performance.
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