Friday, May 14, 2010

Much Ado About Jesus

It's been a rough week for Jesus Montero. Last Friday night, he was pulled from Scranton's game. Initial speculation was that he might have injured his leg, but it was later revealed that he removed for failing to run out a ground ball. He was held out of the lineup for the next two days as punishment, despite the fact the Yankees daily injuries forced them to dip into the Scranton roster on nearly a daily basis.

That should have been the end of it. But this is New York, and Montero is one of the top prospects in baseball. We have to have a controversy here.

First up is's Jayson Stark with his weekly Rumbling & Grumblings column. File this one under grumblings:
Battle of the catching phenoms: It isn't every year that the International League has two catching prospects as hyped as Jesus Montero (Yankees) and Carlos Santana (Indians). But a scout covering that league says there's "no comparison" between those two. Santana "fits exactly what I want in a catcher," the scout said. "He's 6 feet tall, compact, much more athletic and quicker. He can swing the bat … and he's got the best arm back there I've seen in a long, long time." Montero, on the other hand, "just got benched for laziness, basically [i.e., not running out a ground ball]. And from what I've seen, the [Austin] Romine kid in Double-A is going to pass right by him, and Montero is going to end up as pretty much a right-hand-hitting DH. He's got talent. But his swing is really long, and he has no discipline. So the Yankees are going to have two frontline catchers. But they're Romine and [Francisco] Cervelli."

No one is predicting that Jesus Montero is going to be a Gold Glove catcher. In fact, very few are certain that he'll even remain at catcher long term. That his size (6'4", 225) creates some issues for his throwing mechanics is well-documented. But let's not go writing him off just yet. Montero can mash, and a bat like that is going to get every opportunity to play, be it behind the plate or elsewhere.

Cervelli is unquestionably a better defensive catcher, and Romine might prove to be the most complete player amongst the three. But Cervelli is just 24 and has all of 164 Major League plate apperances to his credit, Romine is 21 and has played just 26 games above A-ball, and Montero is 20 and has yet to play a full season at any level other than low-A. Let's not go jumping to conclusions just yet about who is going to outperform whom.

Speaking of jumping to conclusions, Joel Sherman decided to get it on the anti-Montero fun:
Jesus Montero messed up a great opportunity.


The true sin is that he was removed from a recent game and benched for not hustling and sulking. This came at a time when the Yankees had a couple of injuries that have begun to negatively impact their offense, including to DH Nick Johnson.


However, the Yanks are not going to call up a young player acting like a baby, and so Montero might have hurt himself now and into the near future.

In spring training, I sat in an office at the Yankees’ minor league complex and spoke with Montero. During that interview, Montero told me that Jorge Posada is “my daddy.’ That was his way of saying that while he was in major league spring training he followed Posada around like a puppy dog and hoped to emulate him.

If that were the case, then he learned very little. You could criticize Posada for being a bad baserunner or a stone-handed catcher. But his sincerity of effort has never been in question for one second of his Yankee career. Posada cares about being a professional and being a Yankee, and so he plays with passion.

And if Montero needs to see how far fervor can go then just look at what Francisco Cervelli is doing with the Yankees. He is creating a career with expected defense, unexpected offense and boundless enthusiasm. Cervelli is honoring the legacy of Posada. Not Montero.

Aah, weaving in the concept of sin in a post about a guy named Jesus. Brilliance Sherman! That's Pulitzer Prize material right there. And not only did Montero have the gall to dishonor the legacy of Jorge Posada, but he did it within days of Yogi Berra's birthday!

I'm not excusing Montero's failure to hustle last week. It's not the right way to play the game. But at the same time, he's been disciplined. In fact, he's been disciplined somewhat heavy-handedly, essentially a two and half game suspension for one groundball. I think the message has been delivered. No need to go making mountains out of mole hills.

I respect Posada's approach to the game as much as the next guy. But let's not go deifying him here. There have been occasions in his career where Posada has failed to run out a grounder. The same holds true for Derek Jeter and everyone else who has played the game "the right way". It happens. Let's not get too worked up about who's disrespecting who's leagacy, especially when declaring that the infectiously enthusiastic Cervelli is honoring the legacy of the notoriously red-assed Posada.

Once again, Jesus Montero is 20 years old. He's in just his third season full season of stateside professional baseball. He's spent just a half season at both the high A and AA levels. He's just one rung below the Major Leagues, and he's encountering some difficulty (.233/.295/.359) for the first time in his career. Let's cut him a little slack.

It's easy to look at the unexpected success Cervelli has had, and read all the glowing scouting reports about Montero's bat, and say that Nick Johnson is on the DL yet again and never to return, and want to see Montero come riding in on a white horse to save the season. But that's just not the way it's going to work.

The Yankees are committed to giving Montero every chance to succeed behind the plate. They've already fast tracked his development, bringing him to AAA without completing a full season at high A or AA. Bringing him up to play any sort of meaningful role this season was never in the cards. Making him a DH for part of this year would railroad his development as a catcher. Promoting him when he's slumping for the first extended stretch in his career would be a disservice to his development as a hitter. Making him a Major Leaguer without him completing a full season at any of the top three levels of the system would be extremely short-sighted. Just calm down, relax, and let him spend the year at AAA. We'll reap the benefits in the years to come.

On the bright side, at least Montero's trip to Bradenia last night went better than A-Rod's.

1 comment:

  1. Remember when everyone was on Cervelli (last spring?) when he decided to play for the Italian National team. All the press were talking about how he was blowing his big chance to spend time with the team in spring training and now he's the press darling that can do no wrong.

    This is a small story as long as its nipped in the bud.