The story line on Yankee phenom, Jesus Montero, has been that he is a can’t miss major league hitter. Before the 2010 season, he was listed by Baseball America as the No. 4 overall prospect in all of baseball.
But the down side to his story was that he might never be a major league catcher.
That was the story line before spring training began three weeks ago. Montero has impressed everyone with his improved ability behind the dish. Despite being 6’4” and 225 pounds, Montero can move and has good skills.
So the question must be asked: Why is Montero not being given a chance to break camp as the starting catcher for the Yankees?
The argument you hear from Yankee GM Brian Cashman is that he is unproven and that the Yankees want Russell Martin to be the everyday catcher because Martin has big league experience.
In November, Cashman was singing a different story. He had decided and announced that Jorge Posada would be the Yankees regular DH in 2010 and that Montero would be given a chance to win the starting job as catcher.
But then Cashman signed free agent Martin in the offseason for about $4 million on a one-year contract, even though Martin is coming off knee surgery. Cashman felt like the team needed experience behind the plate.
How did Martin get major league experience?
Because when he was 23 years old the Dodgers made him their regular catcher. In six major league seasons, Martin has a lifetime average of .272 and he has averaged just nine home runs per season. His best power year was in 2007 when he banged 19 dingers.
Martin is no slouch behind the plate, but he is not Pudge Rodriguez either. His lifetime average caught-stealing percentage is 31 percent.
Montero, on the other hand, has torn up the minor leagues as a hitter. In four seasons in the minors, he has a .314 average. He hit .317 at Trenton in 2009 in 44 games.
He played the entire 2010 season at Triple-A Scranton. After a slow start, he finished with a .289 average and 21 home runs in 453 at bats. His OPS was .870. So, as stated earlier, no one has doubted Jesus’ ability to hit.
Montero is no baby. He turned 21 years of age on Nov. 28. He can legally buy his own beer.
Some comparisons might be in order.
Ivan Rodriguez was Rookie of the Year when he was 19 and was an All-Star at 20. And he has been one of the most durable catchers of this generation.
Johnny Bench was a regular at age 20.
Joe Mauer caught 35 games the year he was 21 and the next year he caught 131.
Yogi Berra was a regular when he was 22 years old.
No one can say at this point that Montero will be this generation’s Pudge Rodriguez or Johnny Bench or Yogi Berra. That would be ridiculous.
But the Yankees are too reluctant to give the kids a chance. A prime example was their refusal to promote Austin Jackson as their center fielder.
Jackson was traded after the 2009 season to bring in a more “seasoned” Curtis Granderson to play center field. Jackson had played the 2009 season at Scranton and hit .300 in 504 ABs. He had 23 doubles, nine triples, four home runs, 65 RBI and 24 stolen bases.
In 2010, at age 23, Jackson hit .293 for the Tigers as their starting center fielder. He had 34 doubles, 10 triples and 27 stolen bases. He scored 105 runs and drove in 41. His OBP was .345 and his OPS was .745.
By comparison, Granderson hit .247 with an OBP of .324 and an OPS of .792. Grandy had 17 doubles, seven triples, and 12 stolen bases. He scored 76 runs and drove in 67. The only area in which Granderson was far superior was with 24 home runs compared to only four for Jackson.
So why did the Yanks not give Jackson a shot? Because he didn’t have any experience in the major leagues.
If Cashman had been the Yankee GM in 1951, he would have said that Mickey Mantle wasn’t ready because he was only 19 years old.
Montero should be given a chance to play regularly right now. If he can’t handle the responsibility, you have Martin to fill the gap.
But Montero’s defense is pretty good. He has quick feet and soft hands. He has a better than average arm and is accurate with his throwing.
Considering that the Yankees won four world championships with Jorge Posada as their primary catcher has to show everyone that a defensive catcher is not essential.
Posada is one of the worst defensive catchers of the past 15 years. Yet, the Yankees won with him behind the plate.
Montero will be better defensively than Posada has been and should be given a shot to prove it. Right now.
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