By David Heck, Special to CBS Local Sports
CBS Local Sports will be profiling one young player from each Major League Baseball team every day for the next 30 days as part of our “30 Players 30 Days” spring training feature.
Jesus Montero, Catcher, Seattle Mariners
2012 season: 135 G, 515 AB, .260 BA, 15 HR, 62 RBI, .685 OPS
Heading into last season, tons of expectations were heaped upon Jesus Montero. For years, he was one of the most highly touted prospects in the game playing – and he was playing in the New York Yankees system, which meant he got extra attention. Then, after hitting .328 with a .996 OPS in an 18-game taste of the Majors, he was traded to the Mariners for Michael Pineda. The Mariners needed hitting, and acquiring an up-and-coming catcher was a way to get cheap offense at a premium position.
Unfortunately, things did not go as planned for Montero and the Mariners (or Pineda and the Yankees, but that’s another story). The native of Venezuela struggled at the plate throughout the year, only posting an OPS above .800 in the one full month. Part of that was Safeco Field, a notorious pitchers’ park. Montero batted just .227 with a .605 OPS at home, but he managed a much more respectable .295 average and .768 OPS on the road. Montero never drew that many walks in the minors, so it’s no surprise that he struggled in the patience department at the highest level. He drew just 29 free passes in a season’s worth of plate appearances, a mark that will have to improve if he cannot replicate the .308 batting average that he posted in five minor league seasons (though he very well may end up doing that).
Montero has always been a question mark on defense, which makes his bat that much more important. One positive sign is that he hit lefties well last year, posting a .322 average with six homers and an .830 OPS in 177 at-bats. Another is that Montero can hit to all fields, meaning he has a good chance to adjust to Major League pitching as he gets more experience. The 23-year-old backstop will also benefit from fences being moved in at Safeco – Montero’s average home run traveled 406 feet last year, which suggests he wasn’t getting many cheap longballs.
Despite his struggles last year, Montero is still so young and has so much talent that it’s hard to see him failing in the long term. The Mariners apparently feel the same way, as they traded fellow catcher John Jaso to the A’s in the offseason. That means that Montero will not only be getting plenty of at-bats, but he’ll also be trusted to manage the pitching staff on a more regular basis. Look for Montero to take a step forward this year, possibly to the All-Star level that many saw in him as he came up through the minors.
Next up on March 15: Houston Astros