For a day, Jesus Montero was the biggest story in baseball. What started initially as rumblings eventually gave way to verified reports, and then there were actual writers delivering the news (and pictures)—and finally it even made its way all the way to Deadspin, with columnists weighing in with commentary in the days thereafter.
And this time, it was a good thing.
Jesus Montero turned his life around. All across the Pacific Northwest, Jesus Montero—Jesus Montero!—left Mariners fans inspired. Actually, in some cases, they're possibly kind of bummed, and feeling like they themselves should be capable of dropping a few pounds if he was able to shed a kindergartner in weight.
Position players have yet to officially report yet, and Montero may have already created a competition at a position where there wasn't one. Or, if he hasn't—which is more likely—he has a lot of people wondering what happens if one does develop, if the on-field performance in the Cactus League matches all the off-field work he put in this winter.
And it's a fun thing to wonder. The Mariners, after all these years, come to camp with a team capable of not only contending for a playoff spot, but for a title. Don't good teams always have guys like this, random narrative-rich players who come out of nowhere to push the team over the top at a key moment? I mean, it'd be only fitting that after all that went wrong over those dark years, the Mariners would have a story like this in a season when things went right.
But here's the thing: it's going to be real hard for Jesus to make the club. Almost impossible. Barring injury—and that's an enormous qualifier before the calendar's even flipped over to March—this is your bench coming Opening Day:
- Jesus Sucre (maybe, but probably not, John Baker)
- One of the Seth Smith/Justin Ruggiano platoon
- Chris Taylor, Brad Miller or Willie Bloomquist
- Rickie Weeks, as he's on a major league deal
Montero's only shot at this Opening Day roster is making someone else not make it, and the only person for whom that might be possible is Logan Morrison. After how Morrison looked down the stretch, and with the level of comfort the coaching staff likely has with him, unseating him is unlikely.
So the 25-year-old Jesus Montero, the man who may well have had the best offseason in baseball and at one point was the most talented prospect on the planet not named Bryce Harper or Mike Trout is off to Tacoma, tasked with improving his approach and unleashing hell on the Pacific Coast League.
This—this is a good problem.
The reason that good clubs always seem to have guys like Montero come out of nowhere to contribute is that they're put in positions where they are, indeed, coming out of nowhere. The clubs themselves are good because they don't have Montero, now or younger, batting in the heart of the order on Opening Day. And more than anything, they have more than one Montero.
Very good clubs have depth. They aren't depending on one single lottery ticket to pull through to make their club good. They're looking to draw from a large group of guys to produce one lottery ticket, either in isolation or on the whole, that takes the team from good to great.
And Jesus Montero is hardly the only guy that could come out of nowhere to push the Mariners over the top. On the bench, already, there's Rickie Weeks, the guy whose signing is keeping Montero from having a shot at this roster. Then there's this camp's other feel-great story, Danny Hultzen.
While Montero has almost no chance at making this club's Opening Day roster, Danny Hultzen has none. That isn't a slight on him at all, but as Lloyd McClendon said this morning, they're more-so working to get him ready for 2016.
Now, with Hultzen, there isn't the "if he hits, where's he gonna play?!" hype we presently have with Montero as his arrival at camp wasn't quite as jarring, but once we see him face some live competition I'd guess the questions on his fit with the 2015 club will come. Hell, though I wouldn't bank on it, there's a non-zero chance he has a better Cactus League showing than Taijuan Walker, Roenis Elias and J.A. Happ.
This is a guy who, before his 2013 injury, was in line to receive the first call to the majors out of the vaunted triumvirate of himself, Walker and James Paxton. Now, he's headed back to Tacoma.
Again, good problems.
While Hultzen's story is obviously much different than Montero, there are similarities as each just needs to get back to proving who they are. In Tacoma, the club will be able to closely manage Hultzen's workload without it having any impact on wearing down the big league bullpen—until they want it to.
Going back to that aforementioned 2013 season, one key component of getting Paxton and Walker ready for 2014 was having them get a cup of coffee before they were depended on. While those late-2013 callups didn't quite have the desired effect once 2014 arrived—and it'll be interesting to see if those past injuries weigh on the club's mind—I'd be surprised if, barring health, we don't see Hultzen in Seattle at some point in 2015.
Again, these are the types of roles good clubs set aside for their lottery ticket types. They don't need them, but they're there if they prove to the club they're capable of more time.
Everyone likes to think ahead to what or who would make a great story, but this is the background for how they develop. I'm getting the sense there a few people who will need to get used to this whole baseball thing.
In both the macro and the micro, baseball is a slow game—plodding, really. It's all about the little victories, over an interminable period of time, adding up to something greater.
If it gets to the point that we're talking about a playoff roster, and who should be in there and who shouldn't, then we can talk.
But at this point, these are good problems—so let's just watch them get there first.