When taking a break from the ritualistic Devil worship and puppy slaughter required of all Yankees fans, I've often passed the time by writing about Jesus Montero. That made more sense when he was a Yankee than it does now, but I thought it would be a cool way to get closure and maybe you're not completely tired of this story by now.
I've organized what I want to cover into some headings and sub-headings, please forgive the tackiness.
You've probably heard Montero's opposite field power advertised as his number one tool and the reason why scouts are so in love with his bat. At this point in his career, I'd expect a lot more gap-to-gap power* than majestic home runs, as he tends to drive the ball more than lift it.
* Normally, there is a trade off between a stadium's friendliness to home runs and friendliness to doubles and triples. Big outfields take away home runs but yield big gaps; three of the top five triples** parks in baseball in 2011 were Comerica Park, Kauffman Stadium, and Petco Park, all considered to be pitcher's parks. Safeco Field was rated as the hardest park in baseball to hit a double in 2011 (.768), and is consistently pitcher friendly in doubles, triples, and home runs. I have two theories: 1) The ball doesn't carry. 2) Gutierrez.
** Jesus Montero hitting a triple against live human defenders. It could happen. On the other hand, probably not.
What I'm trying to say is that Montero hit almost twice as many doubles as home runs in the minors, and Safeco could take a bite out of that, especially with the way he runs. In a month with the Yankees, he was twice held to a single on line drives off the right field wall. That sucks, but he does hit the ball hard, and you can expect some more of those to turn into home runs as his power develops.
Contact and Discipline - Montero has seen a steady increase in K% moving up from AA to AAA to the majors, and he's definitely going to need to reduce the 24.6% rate that he posted in his September cup of coffee. Joe Girardi:
What I saw last year, I was really impressed with the adjustments that he made. Where he'd see a pitcher for the first time and he might strike him out with a curveball, the next time, he was going to get him. You know, he'd hit that curveball and he'd understand what the pitcher was trying to do to him.
Conjecture: To make a limited comparison, I think that Jesus Montero has a very similar plate approach to Alex Rodriguez. He wants to extend his arms and use right center, but will guess inside and look to pull the ball if he thinks he's going to be challenged inside. However, being able to drive the ball on the outside corner and being able to elevate low fastballs make him susceptible to breaking balls that start in the same window and end up in the dirt.
Although it didn't appear much in this chart of a month in New York, as a plus fastball hitter, Montero has also shown a proclivity to chase high fastballs. If there was one area in his offensive package (outside of speed) that Montero could really stand to improve, being more selective on slop in the dirt and letter high fastballs would be a quantum leap forward. Easier said than done, but in the middle of last season, Montero's hitting really took off after a few quotes about being more selective and waiting for "the most beautiful pitch" instead of being as aggressive early in the count.
Leaving any foundation of fact and diving even further into conjecture, I like to watch players argue balls and strikes. Nick Swisher will complain about balls right down the middle and I know (guess) that he's not seeing the ball very well when he does. Montero drew a healthy number of walks (10.1 BB%) and the few times that he looked unhappy about strike calls, they seemed to be borderline pitches. For what that's worth (not much) and just from watching him, I'd say that he's got a pretty decent idea of where the strike zone is.
Splits - A lot was made of how Montero hit lefties much better than righties last season, but I wouldn't buy into it too much. Before 2011, Montero had no noticeable platoon split and all four of his home runs in the major leagues came off of right handers.
Baserunning - He's slow. And he's a rookie. He made two baserunning gaffes in September, getting nailed straying too far off of second against the Mariners (that's you) and trying to advance from second to third on a ground ball to the right side against the Red Sox. That could very well mean nothing, but it's something to keep an eye on.
As a function of Montero having only caught twenty-two major league innings and the continually changing understanding and valuing of catching defense, most of what I can offer is a non-expert opinion. Quoting Matthew:
By positional values, the difference between a catcher and a DH is 30 runs over a full season. Thirty flippin' runs!
By that logic, I don't think that Montero would cost the team thirty runs with his defense, as a -3 win catcher would have to be historically atrocious. Even factoring in the Mike Fast pitch framing stuff, it seems unlikely that Montero as an individual would not be more valuable as a catcher than as a DH. Whether or not that makes the most sense for the Mariners as a whole is likely dependent on how everyone else is doing.
As some dude with a television and the internet, here is my appraisal of what I've seen in the minors, majors, and Spring Training:
The biggest drawback to Montero's ability to catch is his size. While there are some catchers of comparable size who have played the position effectively (Joe Mauer 6'5 / 230, Matt Wieters 6'5 / 230, Brian McCann 6'3 / 230), those guys tend to have builds that are more lanky than stocky. Montero is every bit of 230 pounds and struggles with some of the agility aspects of catching, especially pitch blocking.
Spiked breaking balls or pitches that badly miss their target and require a quick reaction are where you're most likely to see him struggle, but his hands, receiving ability, and framing ability seem to all at least be passable. His one plus ability as a defender is a big arm, but he's often behind the clock with the amount of time that it takes for him to gather the pitch, unwind his body, and release the the throw.
Overall, I'd rate him as a below average major league catcher, with the ability to develop into an average major league catcher. He will likely never be great with balls in the dirt, but his arm should give him the ability to be a decent deterrent to the running game.
The only other position that I could see him shifting to is first base, and wouldn't at all be surprised to see him do the Santana, Napoli C/1B/DH thing at some point in his career. There was a contingent of Yankees fans who wanted to stick him in the short right field of Yankee Stadium. Not happening. I would say "not happening" to third base as well, but slightly less emphatically than right field.
Other Important Stuff
He's very smiley. He always talks about having fun when he plays and telling jokes to pitchers on the mound to get them to relax. He might just be a troll.
Enjoy the dingers(!) and I'll try and take care of Pineda.