Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Yankees Slugger of the Future Profile: Double-A Catcher Jesus Montero

The New York Yankees have had a much-maligned minor league talent pool for quite some time—and rightfully so.

General Manager Brian Cashman ignored the development of talented young prospects in favor of aging and overly priced veterans—which subsequently transformed an “Amazon River” into a “Sahara Desert.”

Bernie Williams, Derek Jeter, Jorge Posada, Andy Pettitte, Mariano Rivera, Alfonso Soriano, and Ted Lilly suddenly became Andy Phillips, Colter Bean, Jorge De Paula, Sean Henn, and Kevin Thompson.

Position player prospects have been even harder to come by—forcing fans to latch onto the prized arms of Phil Hughes and Joba Chamberlain for hopes of a farm system resurrection.

Luckily for New York, there is finally a prototypical slugger waiting in to wings of the Yankee minor league system. He’s big, strong, patient at the plate, hits for average, hits for power, and is a doubles machine.

Fans can officially raise the volume level on the buzz already circulating around hitting prospect Jesus Montero of the Double-A Trenton Thunder.

*It was important to highlight the potential of Montero in the wake of the public outcry of Yankee fans to acquire Roy Halladay from the Toronto Blue Jays.

Montero began the season at Single-A Tampa, but has quickly risen to the Double-A ranks. In a combined 74 minor leagues games in 2009, he is hitting .336 with 13 HR, 52 RBI, 20 doubles, and a .391 OBP.

When these statistics are calculated over a full 162-game season, Montero would produce 28-29 HR, 114 RBI, and 44 doubles. To put this into perspective, Kevin Youkilis had 29 HR, 115 RBI, a .390 OBP, 43 doubles, and a .312 BA in 2008.

Before an unruly mob carrying torches approaches my front door, I am not at all comparing minor league success to an MVP-caliber season in MLB’s toughest division.

The numbers are so strikingly similar, however, that they could help to project what kind of hitter Montero has the potential to become.

What’s the best part about Montero? He was born in November 1989, which makes him a teenager at just 19 years old.

After a slow start in Double-A, Montero has been adjusting quite nicely. He launched five home runs in a four-game span last week, and is hitting .333 over his last 10 games.

The only problem with the slugger’s game occurs when he is squatting behind home plate—as opposed to standing next to it while wielding a bat.

Montero is an average catcher at best, and is likely to be forced out from behind the plate in order to appear at the major league level. The Yankees would also prefer being able to utilize his bat in the lineup more than 120-130 games per season.

This would not be an issue, aside from the fact that New York is set at most of the reasonable replacement positions.

The corner infield is secure for the better part of a decade with Alex Rodriguez and Mark Teixeira, and Jorge Posada will likely be a permanent clog of the DH role by the time Montero is ready to contribute in the Bronx.

Corner outfield becomes the only conceivable option remaining, and Montero’s 6’4” 230+ pound frame does not exactly scream “range.”

A name that jumps into mind when picturing Montero as a corner outfielder is Houston’s LF Carlos Lee. While he might not produce as many tape-measure shots as Lee, he could play LF and DH whenever Posada is able to catch.

This is clearly a bridge the Yankees will worry about crossing when they arrive at it, but it is a wonderful “problem” to have. For the first time in nearly a decade, New York will have to determine a way to plug a young star in the making into its lineup.

After all, wouldn’t it be ironic that a man named “Jesus” may be responsible for the resurrection of the Yankee position player prospects?

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