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The Jesus Montero Plan

there is a lot that Jesus Montero has to learn about first base
there is a lot that Jesus Montero has to learn about first base

Over at USS Mariner, Dave Cameron has written a few times about how Jesus Montero's future is probably at first base, and Montero has yet to spend a single instant playing first base as a professional. He's never done it even once in a game. After a while, some people started wondering if Dave was just making this up, projecting his own opinion. Some people are anti-vaccination. Those two groups have nothing to do with one another but now they have been forever linked in your head. Here's some proof that Dave wasn't just making it up:

Will Mariners fans see Jesus Montero at first base this year? No, most likely not. But that doesn't mean they won't see him there in the future.

"That is something I have talked to him about in regards to this offseason and working and next spring -- I think that's more realistic," manager Eric Wedge said. "I think it's more fair to him. We're still looking to put [together] the best ballclub we can. I like the dynamic to where you got three different ways to get him in the lineup, if you're talking about catcher, first base and DH."

Montero hasn't played any first base yet, because he's not ready, and because the team has already had Justin Smoak and Mike Carp, for all the good they've done. Montero has started to think about first base, and I expect that we'll hear an awful lot about this come spring training. You'll recognize this as the Mike Napoli idea. It's not exactly identical, but on second thought, yeah it basically is.

Napoli's been in the majors since 2006, having spent a lot of his career playing under a manager who highly values catcher defense. Napoli's started 477 times as a catcher, 116 times as a first baseman, and 39 times as a DH. Those ratios aren't the ratios that Montero would probably have to look forward to -- turns out Napoli has caught more often than I thought. But there are three ways to get Napoli in the lineup, and the Mariners would like for there to be three ways to get Montero in the lineup.

For the time being. When the Mariners players were all watching the draft in the clubhouse, and when the team selected catcher Mike Zunino, a lot of the players started making fun of Montero and telling him that he should feel threatened. Zunino, clearly, is on the fast track, and could even conceivably break camp with the team just next spring. John Jaso has been getting more regular work behind the plate as the Mariners try to figure out how much he can handle. When Zunino was drafted, it didn't yet make sense to assume he would push Montero out of the way. It makes more sense now, as Zunino has proven himself as a professional. Zunino does look like the catcher of the future, and Montero does not.

So next year, the Mariners would like to see Montero be a little versatile. They probably won't abandon him as a catcher completely, because there's a lot of value in a guy being able to do that, but once Montero moves away from the catching position a little, it's easier to keep pushing him further and further. It might not be long before he's a full-time 1B/DH. It's what a lot of people have expected for a while, and while I personally feel like Montero is okay behind the plate right now, if he's worse than Jaso and Zunino then it doesn't really matter. Hopefully he just hits well enough to work wherever he is.

Let's say that Zunino doesn't break camp. That would be possible, but optimistic. I think the Mariners would probably acquire some pretty cheap catcher to man the position along with Jaso and Montero. If and when Zunino is deemed ready, that pretty cheap catcher will go away, and Montero will spend more time elsewhere. This is me speculating but it's also what makes the most sense to me, which should be obvious, since it's what I'm writing.

The idea of Montero as a first baseman makes you wonder about Mike Carp and Justin Smoak as first basemen. Smoak has done nothing to earn consideration, and Carp hasn't done a whole lot more. Certainly, neither looks like a future superstar, so they're not guys that you plan around. You don't change the way you want to handle Jesus Montero because of Mike Carp or Justin Smoak.

If you're trying to find a place where the Mariners could add a significant bat over the winter, I think DH is a strong possibility. They could in theory add a bat anywhere, because every team has flexibility, but DH could be freed up if Jaso catches a lot and Montero plays first base a lot. What this all assumes is that Montero is able to make a successful transition to first, and that's hardly guaranteed since Montero isn't the team's greatest athlete, but he should be at least good enough to fake it. Players don't need to turn into Gold Glovers for increased versatility to be a worthwhile idea.

So, Jesus Montero as a first baseman has officially been talked about. Meaning Jesus Montero as a non-catcher has officially been talked about. There's a ways to go from here, but it's not difficult to deduce what the Mariners would probably like to see happen in the long run. Maybe you really liked the idea of Jesus Montero as a catcher. Make yourself feel better by getting excited about Zunino. Get excited about Zunino.

Also, quickly, from the article linked above:

The Mariners also will address running with Montero -- speed isn't among his strengths -- specifically working on his form.

Mariners: Jesus, Jesus, Jesus
Montero: Yes?
Mariners: Your running.
Montero: What about it?
Mariners: You run like you're stepping on creaky floorboards and you're trying not to wake up a baby.
Montero: Oh
No that's not what I'm doing
Mariners: Yes, but it looks like it is.
Montero: Oh
Mariners: So, stop doing that.
Montero: What do I do?
Mariners: Start running like a normal person.
Montero: You mean like Carlos Peguero?
Mariners: No
Mariners: Okay
Mariners: Let's start over.