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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:

Year Age Tm Lg Lev G AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS
2007 17 Yankees GULF Rk 33 107 13 30 6 0 3 19 12 18 .280 .366 .421 .786
2008 18 Charleston SALL A 132 525 86 171 34 1 17 87 37 83 .326 .376 .491 .868
2009 19 2 Teams 2 Lgs A+-AA 92 347 45 117 25 1 17 70 28 47 .337 .389 .562 .951
2009 19 Tampa FLOR A+ 48 180 26 64 15 1 8 37 14 26 .356 .406 .583 .989
2009 19 Trenton EL AA 44 167 19 53 10 0 9 33 14 21 .317 .370 .539 .909
2010 20 Scranton/Wilkes-Barre IL AAA 46 164 17 37 9 1 3 21 19 32 .226 .304 .348 .652
4 Seasons 303 1143 161 355 74 3 40 197 96 180 .311 .368 .486 .854

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.

11 Responses to “Jesus Montero’s Slow Start – Triple-A Getting Tougher?”

  1. What do the Yankees do with Romine if Montero has to repeat AAA next year?  (Quote)

    [Reply To This Comment]

    EJ Fagan Reply:

    That’s the big question, right? I think that they have four options. They could go back to the C/DH rotation, hold Romine back at Double-A, or demote Montero to Double-A. None really are optimal outcomes. I actually like the fourth outcome best – promote Romine to the majors as part of a Posada-to-DH plan, if Romine is hitting as well as he is at the end of the year.

    However, that plan may not be possible if Romine has no experience at Triple-A. I really don’t think that Montero’s development would be all that depressed if Romine and Montero switch places some time this month.  (Quote)

    [Reply To This Comment]

    Tom Swift Reply:

    So the idea would be for Romine and Cervelli to split the catching duties in 2011, while Posada primarily DH’s?  (Quote)

    [Reply To This Comment]

    EJ Fagan Reply:

    That’s what I would do, personally. I envision Cervelli as the primary backup and Romine as more of an every day player. Cervelli can backup 3b/1b too, and maybe even the corner outfield spots (he’s fast enough for it)  (Quote)

    [Reply To This Comment]

  2. I think they may go with the C/DH rotation at AAA next year. Or one may end up being traded.  (Quote)

    [Reply To This Comment]

    EJ Fagan Reply:

    Yeah, forgot about the trading option. It better be for someone good though.  (Quote)

    [Reply To This Comment]

  3. I do remember reading somewhere that Montero’s BABIP is something ridiculously low and below career average, somewhere in the low to mid-.200′s. While he’s certainly not playing as well as he has in the past, and one can speculate endlessly why, there is probably a bit of luck that is thrown in the discussion as well.  (Quote)

    [Reply To This Comment]

  4. I’m sure adjusting to a higher level and trying to become a better defensive catcher play a big part, but they may not be the only reasons:
    His numbers look pretty bad, but really not much different than Mark Teixeira’s (.215 .328 .370–26 points of OPS difference). I think another big factor might be that he’s in a prolonged slump. I also believe he can (and probably will) snap out of it well before the season ends.  (Quote)

    [Reply To This Comment]

  5. There have also reports that his fielding has made big strides this year, so if he’s struggling at the plate it could simply be a matter of fatigue from spending long hours working on his defense. He hit at AAA last year, though it was late in the season when many top pitchers have been called up. Like most, I’m still not worried about his bat, let him work on his glove.  (Quote)

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  6. Well said – especially the observations concerning the differences between High A, AA and AAA. Most folks have no clue about the distinctions. Montero may struggle this year, but if you’ve watched the kid for awhile, you know he’ll be fine in the long run.  (Quote)

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  7. He’s only 20… One bad year in the minors and people want to trade him already. He’ll be fine….. remember only 20.  (Quote)

    [Reply To This Comment]

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