How do you solve a problem like Jesus Montero?
The Mariners seem to be faced with that very question, and right now their solution has been to bench him. Kelly Shoppach has been hot at the plate and Montero's struggling. Shoppach has now gotten the start over Montero in three of the last four games, and last night's start even after a day off was particularly telling.
Is this the abrupt end to trying Montero out as the team's full time catcher? Montero's defense has been terrible this season. He's had issues with catching the ball (generally a good skill for a catcher), he's yet to throw out a base stealer, and his bat has been a disaster. It's early, but discouraging.
Perhaps the light just isn't coming on for Montero. He hasn't drawn a walk. After the pitcher gets ahead in the count, Montero has been crippled to a line of .118/.118/.118.
It's become increasingly evident to the Mariners and former catcher Eric Wedge that Shoppach is flat out a better player than Jesus Montero at this stage in Montero's career. But what does the team do with him? While Montero's future as a catcher may be in doubt, the team isn't going to give up his bat, and he's still only 23 years old. If the at-bats aren't there for Montero at catcher, it's reasonable to wonder if he could be on a bus to Tacoma soon.
There's an awkward gap in time here for the Mariners regarding the catching situation. Shoppach can hold it down until the Mariners delay Mike Zunino long enough for a) development, and b) service time considerations, but there's no at-bats at catcher for Montero in AAA right now, and there's becoming less available to him at the major league level as his struggles continue. There's no at-bats for him at DH at the big league level either, so this may be nearing the end of the line for Montero as a catcher. He could see himself as Tacoma's new DH by the end of the month if his bat doesn't start to come around, and he may or may not be afforded the chance to do that.
Montero will likely get one more shot at an extended run of starts, but his ability to stick will entirely depend on the bat. Montero isn't going to magically become better at defense in the next month.
Montero is currently seeing 3.37 pitches/PA, and there are only 4 batters in the American League with his amount of PA seeing so few pitches. It's even worse than last season, where he saw just 3.58 pitches/PA.
Despite his aggressiveness, Montero has not offered at unreasonable pitches. His O-Swing% is 29%, and league average is 28.5%. He's a chart of the pitches he's offered at, and it's quite normal, if not selective.
Yet Montero's spray chart is bizarre.
If he's making an out, there's been two main outcomes. He's flying out weakly to RF or he's rolling over grounders to the left side of the infield. There's some indication here that he's having a great deal of trouble barreling up the ball, popping out weakly to the opposite field off the end of the bat or getting jammed to the left. He hasn't hit a single ball with any sort of power.
So far, Montero's problem doesn't seem to be his swing selection despite his impatience, it seems to be his pitch recognition. He's getting fooled on the kind of pitches thrown to him and can't square anything up, resulting in weak contact. Obviously it's extremely early. But if he can't catch, his bat has to be quite good to stick at DH, and the team will now and forever have plenty of suitors to eat up ABs there. Montero becomes quickly unremarkable if he can't bust out as a hitter.
It isn't out of the question that Montero could be shipped to AAA and the team could call up Sucre to back up Shoppach or sign a free agent to keep the seat warm until Zunino's arrival.
Wedge's usage of Montero over the next 10 days will give great insight into what this team plans to do with him going forward. The door on Montero as a catcher is creaking shut, and if he sits again tonight or starts at DH, you might as well close it.