Good morning Fackers. When we profiled top prospect Jesus Montero two weeks ago, I speculated that he could start 2010 at AA Trenton before moving up to AAA Scranton some time around midseason. Yesterday, Chad Jennings reported that Yankees Vice President of Baseball Operations Mark Newman stated that the organization plans to have Montero start the year at Scranton as the regular catcher.
This serves as further evidence of the confidence the Yankees have in Montero. To have a 20 year old in AA is very rare, to have one in AAA - with less than a full season's experience at either AA or high A is nearly unheard of. Offensively at least, Montero hasn't encountered anything remotely resembling a challenge in his professional career. It will be interesting to see if that holds in the International League next year.
As we covered last week when Baseball America announced their top ten Yankee prospects, there is tremendous depth at catcher in the Yankee system. Starting Montero at AAA allows number two prospect Austin Romine to be the regular catcher at Trenton while highly regarded Kyle Higashioka slots in at low A Charleston. Other top prospects JR Murphy and Gary Sanchez will stay in extended spring training before being farmed out later in the season.
The one potential negative to Montero starting the year at AAA is that the organization will likely find it exceedingly difficult to stash a Major League caliber emergency catcher at Scranton. With the #3 prospect in all of baseball there and playing nearly everyday, no fringe player with Big League credentials is going to want to play back up / mentor to Montero. This is a minor point relative to Montero's development, but as we saw last year, it's tough enough for the Yankees to convince a decent emergency catcher to sign a minor league deal. Montero climbing another rung on the ladder will make this even harder.
With any luck the Yankees won't face a similar situation this year. But with Francisco Cervelli graduating to the back up job and Jose Molina presumably elsewhere, the Yankees likely won't have any sort of veteran back up plan in the event of an injury to either of their Major League catchers. If that were to occur, minor league veterans Chris Stewart or P.J. Pilittere would likely be first in line. Either that, or perhaps the Mets could loan them one of the seven back up catchers they've inked this off-season.
[UPDATE: Just after I finished writing this last night the Yankees signed Mike Rivera to a minor league contract. So just ignore those last two paragraphs]