Jesus Montero entered the 2010 season as the Yankees top prospect and he finished the season as their top prospect so things must have gone well for him.
The truth is it was a tale of two seasons for Montero. After splitting 2009 between high-A and double-A he was promoted to triple-A even though at 20-years-old he was one of the youngest players in the league.
He started the season off slowly. He hit just .247 in April and was even worse in May batting .214 with a .635 OPS. For a prospect who has had nothing but success at every level in the minors it was shocking to see him struggle. After all, with suspect defense if he can’t hit he really isn’t much of a prospect at all.
Then starting in June something really impressive happened. Montero turned his season around. By the time the Mariners turned down the Yankees’ offer for Lee, which included Montero, for the Ranger’s offer he had not only turned his season around, but started absolutely dominating the league.
In June he hit .283 with a .324 OBP and a .829 OPS. He also hit as many home runs that month, three, as he had hit in April and May combined. In July he hit .342 with a .441 OBP and a 1.072 OPS. In August a .330 BA and a .985 OPS. He topped all that off by hitting .370 with a 1.222 OPS in six games in September.
The reason why that turn around was so impressive is because it’s typical for a 20-year-old to struggle in triple-A. It isn’t always typical for them to turn around their season the way Montero did.
He also turned around his attitude a bit. Starting in spring training Montero showed up out of shape. At the time there were quotes from Brian Cashman who supposedly sat down with the kid and explained to him how important he was to the organization and that he needed to work harder in order to take advantage of his unique opportunity. Then in May he was benched for lack of hustle.
I’m not sure what the excuse for showing up out of shape is, but he was really struggling offensively in May and that was something he had never really experienced. Not hustling is really not that big of a deal as long as it doesn’t become a regular issue. By the end of the year he was drawing big praise for his hustle and effort from the manager and the coaching staff of the triple-A Scranton Yankees.
A big thing about Montero as a prospect now is his defense. His bat has potential to be really special, but a big reason why he is such a highly regarded prospect is because if he can stick behind the plate and become a major league catcher the Yankees would have a big advantage over every team with a light hitting catcher.
Montero is a big guy, 6’4″ and at least 225 lbs.. That is rather large for a catcher even if with guys like Joe Mauer it is becoming more common. So throughout Montero’s minor league career he has always struggled to keep up defensively with other catchers in the Yankees’ system.
A big part of the reason why Montero was never called up to the majors this season despite his monumental second half numbers was because the Yankees wanted to make sure he had an entire season in the minors this year. It wasn’t for any reason other than to get him more practice behind the plate. 2010 was his first full season playing everyday behind the plate (before that he split time with Austin Romine).
So how did it go? Well depending on whom you listen to is the answer you’ll get. Most scouts and pundits aren’t overly excited by his defensive progress. The Yankees differ with that though including Gene Michael who supposedly was integral in convincing Brian Cashman that he is ready to handle the everyday starting job next season.
Now, just because the Yankees insist he’s ready to catch at the major league level doesn’t make it so. They could be telling the truth or they could simply think he’s merely good enough to get the job done thinking his offense will make up for poor defense. Or they may even just be trying to convince the rest of the league that he’s good enough so he has more trade value. We as fans will not be able to know until we begin watching him everyday.
It seems to me that Montero is the clear no. 1 prospect in the Yankees system. How good he will eventually be depends on two things, how quickly he adjusts to the majors and two, how much improvement he has made defensively.
Either way, we’ll find out next season as long as the Yankees don’t trade him. The catching job is his to lose and even if he doesn’t get it out of spring training, he probably won’t be in the minors by the end of May 2011.