It’s easy to forget that Jesus Montero is still technically a prospect. He’s likely to land a top-5 spot on Baseball America’s top prospect lists for the third straight year, and will no doubt be everyone’s early favorite for the AL Rookie of the Year. We all watched him hit a pretty special .328/.406/.580 in September following a disappointing .288/.348/.467 in the minor leagues. He helped push Jorge Posada to retire early, and is assured at least an extended look at the beginning of the season at DH.
Given all of that, I think that expectations for Jesus Montero have a pretty wide range. Some people are expecting him to play like Miguel Cabrera right away, hitting 30 home runs or more out of the gate and slugging above .500. They see a player of immense talent on the cusp of a major breakout. On the other hand, I get the sense that some people are expecting Montero to struggle quite a bit, hitting maybe 15 home runs with an OPS around .750. They suspect that a strong September masked an overall disappointing season despite a second trip to Triple-A.
I think there are a few key principles to keep in mind with Montero. First, Jesus can still have a good season, for a 22 year-old catcher/dh entering the major leagues, while still underperforming reasonable expectations. If Jesus struggles a little bit and hits .260/.320/.440, he’s not a bust or even overhyped. He’s just adjusting to the toughest pitchers in the world. I think he’s capable of better than that, but we shouldn’t panic if he doesn’t light the world on fire from the get-go.
Second, we need to remember that Montero is not yet a true power hitter. I know that much of the hype surrounding him revolves around booming home runs to the opposite field. It’s true that he is incredibly strong and can hit 450 foot home runs to right field, but he has never really put together a sustained power campaign in the minor leagues. Montero hit 76 home runs in 489 minor league games, or about 25 per 162 game season. He’s got power and gets his share of home runs, but no one should expect him to hit 35+ next season, even playing in a ballpark suited to his swing.
Montero has always had a much more balanced hitting approach than the profile generally assigned to him. He brings a solid-t0-low strikeout rate, good enough walk rate, solid power, and a high-percentage swing for hits to the table. In many ways, he actually hits a lot more like Robinson Cano than your typical power hitter. Cano keeps his batting average up with a very strong contact rate and just enough power, while Montero strikes out a little bit more but makes up for it by taking walks. What makes him special is that he does this while retaining the potential to become a true power hitter.
Given all that, I’m willing to make a prediction. I don’t think Jesus will approach his minor league average – .308/.366/.501. I’m looking at his .288/.348/.467 batting line at Triple-A last season, and it looks about right. He’ll get his hits,bash about 25 home runs, and generally be a productive player. I know a lot of people are bound to be disappointed if he isn’t David Ortiz right off the bat, but that would actually be a very strong debut for a 22 year-old. Now just cross your fingers and hope he survives the trade market.
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