Fans love prospects. They hear about them in their early stages having all the potential in the world. Fans begin to dream of the wonderful evenings they will someday spend together. Rarely do they hear about the fundamental flaws in their game, and even when those flaws are mentioned by some scout, they often excuse it away as one man’s opinion. When a chorus of other scouts and prospect experts say the same thing, they figure he’ll work on it, and everything will be alright. Fans and the prospects they love are like newlyweds. The whole world seems wide open with endless possibilities. Sometimes they’re right, and things do work out great. But all too often, the honeymoon ends. Sometimes they come to the conclusion that despite the fact they love each other, the relationship simply doesn’t work. In his latest edition of Inbox, Brian Hoch of MLB.com shoots down the notion of uber-prospect Jesus Montero playing Left Field, which alters the equation on his future in pinstripes. He writes:
Q-I have read a couple of articles about Jesus Montero and how some think he doesn’t project well as a catcher. Would the Yankees consider moving Montero to one of the corner outfield positions?
– Anthony G., Belleville, N.J.
A-You never say never, I suppose, but my understanding is that Montero would not be a terrific fit in the outfield because he just doesn’t run well. As one person in the know told me, “He’s slow as molasses.”
But he sure can hit, and the Yankees internally believe he can be a big league catcher, something he’ll continue doing at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. He might have made an ideal first-base candidate at some point, but since Mark Teixeira isn’t going anywhere, it’s probably going to be catcher or designated hitter when Montero makes his big league debut. That may happen as soon as this year.
With Left Field not being an realistic option, then it’s pretty much Catcher-or-bust for Mr Montero to have any chance of staying a Yankee long term. We all know that First Base is occupied by a pretty good player for a very long time. The stuff about him being a DH is sounds good in theory, but breaks down in practice. First, he’s too young and loses too much value if you don’t find a position somewhere for him that he can play adequately. Next, if anyone is going to be spending time at DH over the next few seasons, it will be the 39 year old Jorge Posada, with Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez almost certainly spending some time there as well in future years. Did I mention Nick Johnson is signed (with a mutual option) through 2011? Young players need to play, and Jesus will be fighting time at catcher with Posada and Cervelli over the next two seasons, much less DH.
DH just means that he’d be worth more to another team than he is to us, like Nick Johnson was when we had Jason Giambi in the fold. Johnson was a fine hitter and better fielder than Jason, but he was making MLB minimum and therefore more far more valuable in a trade than the expensive, older Giambi. Fans may remember that Brian Cashman opposed the Giambi signing, preferring to re-sign Tino Martinez for a year or two and wait for Nick Johnson to develop. But he was overruled by George Steinbrenner and Giambi was signed. When faced with two players at the same position, Cashman then used his young, cheap asset in Johnson as the centerpiece to fill another need by making the Javier Vasquez deal with the (now-defunct) Montreal Expos. If a big pitcher becomes available, and sooner or later one will, it simply makes more sense to trade Jesus than keep him around as a part-time DH/Catcher. He doesn’t make sense as a 2nd string Catcher, which is typically occupied by a defensive specialist. I’ve heard some argue ‘his bat will play anywhere’ and he doesn’t need a position. Maybe, but it really doesn’t matter if he’s the best DH in all of Baseball, he’s not worth as much to us as a stud pitcher. Look up Josh Johnson’s WAR from 2009 and that of some top DH, say (AL DH Leader) Adam Lind from 2009. It’s an easy choice, and the Yanks would be foolish not to make that trade. If anything, they’d have to sweeten the pot to make the deal, Jesus alone wouldn’t be enough.
There may however, be a third option. Since Jesus is only 20 years old, it gives us some wiggle room in his case. The consensus among scouts is that even if he can catch initially, he will have to move out of the position eventually. If Montero can play the position well enough while he’s still young and has some youthful athleticism (into his mid 20’s) then he can serve as a placeholder for one of our other catching options like Austin Romine, Gary Sanchez, Kyle Higashioka, JR Murphy or a number of free agent options. The fact that the Yanks keep drafting Catchers despite having a system stocked at the position might be a window into what they internally think about Montero’s future at the position. They may envision a scenario where he spends his early years at Catcher/DH and moves over to 1B when Tex’s contract expires down the road. Sounds like a long way off, and it is, but in 2016 Jesus will still only be 27 years old.
In discussing this with Mike Axisa from RAB last night, he noted that these things tend to work themselves out, and I would agree with that. But don’t dismiss the notion that Jesus could be dangled for a stud pitcher or positional need. Brian Cashman has already offered him once, for a 32 year old making 16 mil. A young stud earning less would make even more sense. Again, if he can’t stick at Catcher then he’s more valuable to someone who can play him at First Base than he is to us if he’s a only DH. And most scouts think that’s all he’ll ever be for the Yankees.