For the past 2 ½ seasons, we Yankee fans have been on the Jesus Montero hype train, with appetites whetted by amazing tales of baseballs launched into orbit by the 21 year old phenom’s bat. Last season, we were shocked when we learned that Montero was nearly sent to Seattle for Cliff Lee. I think the shock was even more palpable when we discovered the reason the deal fell through wasn’t Yankee reservations about dealing the stud prospect. It was Brian Cashman‘s reluctance to send along Eduardo Nunez.
Still, entering this past offseason, the general assumption was that Montero would be joining the Yanks for 2011, sharing catching duties with Jorge Posada and perhaps Francisco Cervelli. Instead, Cashman signed Russell Martin. Martin has been solid this season – especially defensively. And that’s where the story of Jesus Montero seems to constantly wind up – with his defense, or rather, lack of defense. We all watched Jesus demonstrate how not to play catcher during Spring Training and further solidify the case that Montero actually projects to more of a Victor Martinez type – good bat, but his best defensive position is the bench.
And if that’s the case, he becomes a luxury for most teams: in the NL, he has nowhere to play. In the AL, he locks up the DH spot.
To make matters worse, the occasional rumors about his mental make-up seem to be holding true. He was recently benched for “attitude problems.” He seems to be taking his defensive struggles and expectations into his at-bats. So far at AAA this year, he’s hitting .283 with only a .747 OPS – or around 125 points lower than last year. More worrisome, his strike out percentage is higher: 22% this year from 17.7% last season while his power numbers are way down. Last year, he homered once every 24 plate appearances. This year, it’s once every 44. It has to concern the Yankees that this supreme talent may not be able to get his head into the game.
We’re now a year later and already Montero’s name has come up in trade rumors. Once again, the Yankees seem more willing to deal him than other top-flight prospects – and he recently dropped out of the top five baseball prospects for the first time since 2009. The organization obviously has reservations about his ability at the big league level, otherwise we wouldn’t have Cervelli on the ML roster. (Or Martin, for that matter). If he survives the trade season still wearing Baby Pinstripes, he will need to perform over the second half of the season and then show something in September with the big club. If not, I suspect will be gone this offseason in some package or another. And we’ll remember Montero the way we remember other über- prospects who were never able to realize their full potential, from Ken Phelps to Roberto Kelly.