Name: Jesus Montero
Notable 2011 Stats: .288/.348/.467 with 19 2B, 1 3B, 18 HR, 98/36 K/BB, and 0-for-0 SB in 109 games with Scranton/Wilkes-Barre (AAA);
.328/.406/.590 with 4 2B, 0 3B, 4 HR, 17/7 K/BB, and 0-for-0 SB in 18 games with Yankees
Why He’s This High: Montero often ranks much higher than this on prospect lists, as many see him as one of the top hitters of the next generation. This is a player who had a huge 2009, hitting .337/.389/.562 between High-A and Double-A as a 19-year-old, and his prospect status really hasn’t lost much momentum since. He’s spent two full years in Triple-A, hitting .289/.351/.493, and he has little to prove in the minor leagues even though he just turns 22 this week.
Montero immediately looked the part of a top prospect in September, forcing his way into a semi-regular role in the Yankees lineup and putting up a near-1.000 OPS. He looks more than ready to become an everyday player in 2012.
Why He’s This Low: As highly publicized as Montero’s hitting exploits have been, he’s almost as famous for his ineptitude behind the plate. He’s a pretty massive player for a catcher, and he lacks the requisite flexibility to make anything look smooth. He did cut down on his passed balls this year (seven in 88 games in Triple-A), but he threw out just 20% of basestealers. It’s long been assumed that Montero would fail to develop enough defensively to hold down an everyday catcher job, and while he’s to be applauded for his attempts to improve, the chances that the Yankees give him more than a Matt LeCroy role defensively seem extraordinarily slim.
That, of course, means we’re basically talking about a DH, and if Montero is going to be one of the game’s stars without doing much of anything in the field, he’d truly have to be one of the game’s elite hitters.
I have my reservations that he’ll turn out that well. For one thing, his production in Triple-A was merely passable for a DH, and a .288/.346/.467 line from a player with no defensive value shouldn’t really excite anyone. In fact, Montero regressed offensively from his first year in Triple-A, where he hit .289/.353/.517. His numbers have declined at every stop since he was in High-A, which is not a good trend.
Overall, as an offensive player, I don’t see a “signature skill” in Montero’s skillset. He’s never walked at a 10% rate, he’s never hit more than 21 homers in a season, and his strikeout rates have been trending upward to the point where they’re an issue. That makes him a guy whose value comes from his being able to rip singles and doubles all over the park, with maybe 20 clearing the fence (He’ll probably hit more than 20 with Yankee Stadium as his home park, but I’m not bumping anyone up or down for park effects). That makes him sound more like Billy Butler 2.0 than Miguel Cabrera 2.0 to me.
You may be thinking “Oh, he’s just 22; he’ll improve,” and that’s true. Still, though, this is a 6’4″, 230 lb. catcher/DH we’re talking about. He’s not physically projectable, so he’s not likely to grow into much more power than he already has. Any improvements he makes at the major league level will have to be approach or mechanics-based, as opposed to simply the natural physical maturation process.
Conclusions: Obviously, I lent a lot more space in this one to negatives than I did to positives. That’s not to overly pile on to Montero–let’s remember, I am saying he’s one of the top 50 prospects in baseball–but simply to fully articulate what I believe is a rather unpopular opinion. And I should say this: I know a lot of people compare Montero to Miguel Cabrera, and I wouldn’t be outright shocked to see Montero get to that point. It’s possible. But to assume any hitter is going to reach that highest echelon of offensive production, to me, is a stretch. And without any defensive value, that’s pretty much what I’d have to do to rank Montero in the top 10 or 15. If he could hold down the catching position, then I’d have no issue putting him there. However, to me, more signs point to him being a Butler-esque above-average DH than a Cabrera-level star. And as a 21-year-old in Triple-A, even Butler hit better than Montero did–let alone Cabrera, who had a better batting line in the majors at age 21 than Montero did in Triple-A.
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