Monday, December 7, 2009

Minor League Monday: Jesus Montero

Jesus Montero is the unquestioned crown jewel of the Yankees' minor league system. I was hoping to save him for some sort of momentous post, but given that this week marks the peak of the Hot Stove season we may as well trot out a Montero profile now. Besides, I want to make sure we get him in now in case he's included in a deal for Roy Halladay.

A righy swinging catcher, Montero was born in Venezuela and signed as an international free agent in 2006. Initially given a signing bonus of $2M, it was later reduced after a poor showing in minicamp and reports that Montero may have misrepresented his age. Still, Montero was considered the best power hitter amongst the 2006 international signees.

He made his U.S. debut the following year as a 17 year old in the rookie Gulf Coast League and posted a line of .280/.366/.421. Following the season, Baseball America listed him as the Yankees' sixth best prospect, and third best position player behind Austin Jackson and Jose Tabata. Despite just 33 games of professional experience, Montero's performance was enough to earn him a non-roster invitation to Spring Training in 2008, where he homered in his only at bat.

He spent the entirety of the 2008 season at low A Charleston, where he split the catching and DH duties with fellow top prospect Austin Romine, posted a .326/.376/.491 line with 17 HR, and earned mid-season and post-season All-Star honors. He was also selected to the mid-season Futures Game. Baseball America upped him to second on the Yankees' prospect list.

2009 saw both Montero and Romine promoted to high A Tampa, where they continued splitting time between catching and DHing. Montero destroyed the Florida State League through 48 games, hitting 356/.406/.583 before earning an early June promotion to AA Trenton. He showed no signs of slowing down there, posting a five game home run streak at one point and batting .317/.370/.539. All the more impressive is that he did it as a 19 year old in just his third professional season, in a league that historically favors pitching, and in a park that historically suppresses offense.

Montero's season ended prematurely, thanks to a broken finger suffered at the start of August. Still, he was named to the mid-season All-Star of both the Florida State and Eastern Leagues and was named to his second consecutive Futures Game. In their mid-season report, Baseball America named him the third best prospect in all of baseball.

Montero's finger injury has healed and he's currently playing winter ball in Venezuela for Los Navegantes del Magallenes. However, he's appeared in just nine games, none since November 5th, and is hitting just .115. His absence is not injury related though; he's just playing behind an older and more experienced teammate.

There are concerns about Montero's ability to be a catcher in the long term. He carries a 6'4" 225 lb frame and there are questions about his footwork and mobility. The Yankees will likely give him every opportunity to fail as a catcher before moving him to another position. His bat will play anywhere, as a recent profile stated Montero is "a potential once-in-a-generation force on offense".

Montero's likely ticketed for AAA Scranton in 2010, but the organization may want to send him back to Trenton to start the season. There's a chance that he could see the Bronx this year, but I wouldn't count on it. Just to gain some perspective though on how good this 20 year old is, here are his MLB projections for 2010 and his combined minor league equivalents from 2009:

(Click for larger image)

Clearly not enough to warrant a Major League starting job, at least not on a team that hopes to contend, but to consider that a 20 year old potential catcher could put up such lines is very impressive. In the history of baseball there have been 11 men to post slugging percentages over .400 as 20 year old rookies: Ted Williams, Frank Robinson, Bob Horner, Orlando Cepeda, Ruben Sierra, Willie Mays, Miguel Cabrera, Hank Aaron, Eddie Matthews, Arky Vaughan, and Ron Santo. Seven Hall of Famers, one more who should be, one more who might be, and two guys who had lengthy productive careers. That's pretty lofty company.

Montero will be mentioned in any major trade discussion the Yankees have, and will be asked for in even the minor discussions. Maybe the right deal will present itself where it would be worthwhile to deal Montero. Maybe Montero never pans out to what he promises to be, or maybe a move from behind the plate leaves him without a spot on the Yankees, or saps him of his full value. But right now, it's one of the pleasures of being a Yankee fan to look at what he's already done and imagine what may be in the future.


  1. It would be a real shame if the Yankees trade him. Really, I don't see how they can. If this guy goes to Toronto and has an amazing career it'll be a black eye on the Yankees forever. People still cry about Jay Buhner and he has the potential to be even better.

  2. and if he can stick at catcher, he will (hopefully) be ready to go right when Posada is on his way out. I think Cervelli will have a long career as a backup catcher but I'm not sold that he has the bat to be a starter.

  3. Rob - I agree it would be a shame, potentially far beyond Buhner, Drabek, McGee, McGriff, et al and all the others sent away too soon in the 80s. But I'm not 100% confident that he's untouchable.

    JGS - I'm with you on Cervelli, most project him as a career back up type, maybe a starter for a bad team. The Yankees have a lot of depth at catcher in their system. Even if Montero can stick nehind the plate, we may see Austin Romine as the catcher of the future with Montero moving elsewhere to prolong his career.

  4. Moo - There's no reason for the Yanks to trade him alone for Halladay much less also includ Chamberlain or Hughes and other prospects. Look what the Twins managed to get for Johan Santana (and Santana was younger AND more of a need at the time than Halladay). Halladay is a luxury that would be nice to have but the Yanks have less of a need for him than they did Santana. Let the Jays try to get some other team to try to trade for him and then have to worry about either resigning him or giving him a crazy contract.