I’ve been resisting commenting on Jesus Montero’s slow start to the season for a lot of reasons. Mostly, I believe there isn’t a lot to say. Montero is 20 years old, and has hit a prolonged slump in his first season at Triple-A. Here are his numbers:
|2009||19||2 Teams||2 Lgs||A+-AA||92||347||45||117||25||1||17||70||28||47||.337||.389||.562||.951|
There really is no silver lining to report. Jesus Montero is not hitting well. His K and BB rates are both slightly elevated, but Montero hasn’t been able to string hits together all season. He’s still hitting a decent number of balls for extra bases, but isn’t doing a whole lot else.
This should not (and as far as I can tell from commenters and other bloggers, has not) panic anyone. Not only is Jesus Montero only 20 years old, but the Yankees also took some shortcuts on his hitting development to get him to Scranton so quickly. He played just 44 games at Double-A due to his late-2009 finger injury. He’s playing well ahead of the curve, and its probably about time for Montero to settle down for a a season or so and struggle. Colby Rasmus had a similar development curve, and is experiencing a great breakout season at 22 years old in the majors right now.
More importantly, I think that Montero’s struggles might tell us a little bit about the composition of the Eastern League and International League. For some time now, I’ve sensed that the old conventions about Double-A and Triple-A are changing. Conventional wisdom states that the High-A-to-Double-A jump is the second hardest jump (after the Triple-A-to-MLB jump) to make. A lot of players – Matt Wieters, Jesus Montero, Alex Gordon, Cameron Maybin, and Colby Rasmus, to name a few, have dominated Double-A, but either struggled at first at Triple-A or took an unusually long time to adjust to the Majors considering their success at Double-A. We’ve also seen this season some real big Eastern League performances out of David Adams, Brandon Laird, and Austin Romine.
I think that there has been a bit of an adjustment in the pitching competition between Double-A and Triple-A in recent years. Jesus Montero hit very well at Double-A, but has struggled to do anything at Triple-A. If the two levels were very close in levels of competition, he wouldn’t have much of an adjustment to make. Clearly, the jump has been a big step up for Montero. We’ve heard reports that Montero is out of shape, but I don’t think that really explains to decline for such a natural hitter.
The good news, and I think Rasmus helps support this, is that a harder Triple-A means an easier transition to the major leagues. Jesus has some work to do to adjust to his league and start hitting the ball again, but once he does so he should be able to quickly move up to a major league role. But I don’t think that anyone would be surprised if M0ntero struggles for the rest of the calender year.
One final thought: Montero’s strength is his natural hitting ability. He’s not an all-around athlete in any way. He’s more of a talent than an athlete. Talent just doesn’t dissolve in to thin air. Athletes can do well in the low minors based on sheer physical ability, but sometimes flame out before they hit the majors on the skill side of things. Montero doesn’t have that issue. There is nothing to worry about here.