Mariners Take Rare Mulligan With Montero

When the Seattle Mariners dealt left-hander Cliff Lee to the Texas Rangers for a package centered around first baseman Justin Smoak, my initial reaction was surprise – the New York Yankees were in the hunt and had apparently offered their top prospect, only to be rebuffed at the 11th hour. In March, a spring training piece I wrote on Montero included even stronger sentiment:

Jesus Montero has a chance to have a very special career for the New York Yankees, or any franchise he may be dealt to. Personally, I thought the Seattle Mariners were nuts for wanting Justin Smoak over Jesus Montero at the trade deadline last season.

Having never had the opportunity to scout Smoak in person, my frame of reference for discussing Smoak became Montero as he still ranks as the best pure hitting prospect I’ve had the opportunity to scout.

Unfortunately for the Mariners, Smoak has failed to live up to those lofty expectations producing just 0.2 WAR in nearly 900 plate appearances. Their continued search for offense led them back to the Yankees doorstep once again, only this time, the cost of acquiring Montero significantly more steeper, costing the time young hurler Michael Pineda.

Based on ZIPS projections, Jesus Montero should be the most potent offensive player on a relatively young Seattle Mariners team immediately. And while his slugging percentage of .590 in limited action is tantalizing, framing Montero as a pure power hitter would be ill-advised.

Yes, Montero will produce power, but he profiles as more of a complete hitter whose relatively level swing plane allows him to consistently barrel the baseball, leading to both strong batting averages and respectable on base percentages. In Seattle, Montero may wind up trading home runs for a significant number of doubles early in his career, as he continues to refine his hitting mechanics to create more backspin and fully tap into his power potential.

With experience, Montero should lower his strikeout rates, which are of slight concern considering his regression in that area over the past couple of seasons. Additionally, he may never post impressive walk totals, but will be forced into a more disciplined approach as pitchers game plan for Montero to exploit his weaknesses. However, with his growth both offensively and defensively since scouting him as an embryo, I’m confident in Montero’s ability to make the necessary adjustments to eventually thrive.

On defense, regardless of how much Montero has improved behind the dish, designated hitter remains a likely landing spot – especially on a roster being infused with quality young arms in Danny Hultzen, James Paxton, Taijuan Walker, Hector Noesi and Blake Beavan. And while the Mariners are becoming the west coast Braves in terms of developing young arms, trusting them to Montero would be unwise.

The scenario may unfold where Montero becomes Noesi’s personal catcher based on their familiarity with each other to maximize his offensive value, but trusting 120-140 games to the 22-year old? No matter what the advanced statistics indicate in terms of loss of value for a catcher moving off the position, letting Montero settle in as designated hitter and trusting the staff to the veteran combination of Miguel Olivo/John Jaso is likely a win for the organization as a whole.

Additionally, Montero behind the plate raises his injury risk to unacceptable levels considering his offensive ceiling and value regardless of position. Beyond discussing the obvious in injuries to Carlos Santana and Buster Posey over the past couple of seasons, Montero has always struggled to protect his bare hand behind the plate, which makes the former college catcher in me cringe.

Catching 101 includes a lesson in properly protecting the thumbs – which Montero seems to have missed – as he rarely tucks his right hand safely behind his back foot and out of harms way. Taking things a step further, Montero’s bare hand “floats” mid-pitch as he adjusts to catch and frame. This leaves him susceptible to foul tips off of the hands.

In general, this is a relatively simple adjustment, but scouting him in 2008, and then seeing the same bad habits in 2011 leave me wondering if his hand positioning is more a function of balance which would be harder to correct. Quite simply, Montero could be the second coming of Ivan Rodriguez defensively and Montero’s heightened injury risk may not be worth it. A badly broken thumb costs a player months of playing time and could run the risk of long term damage.

As an offensive player, Montero ranks in the top-four amongst prospects I’ve scouted, right there with Braves Jason Heyward, Marlins Mike Stanton and Nationals Bryce Harper – Select company to say the least. After first scouting Montero in 2008 I wrote:

With his advanced hitting approach and repeatable swing mechanics, I can see him competing for batting titles. At 18, he has time to learn how to add backspin, but his line drive power should allow him to hit 25-30 home runs annually even if he doesn’t.

For me, little has changed since that statement, even though Montero has experienced more adversity at the upper levels than initially thought. Keep in mind, he is still only 22 years of age even if it seems as if he has been around forever. This age is a sweet spot for projecting star level careers and Montero is no exception.



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Mike Newman is the Owner/Managing Editor ofROTOscouting, a subscription site focused on baseball scouting, baseball prospects and fantasy baseball. Follow me onTwitter. Likeus on Facebook.Subscribeto my YouTube Channel.


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hernandez17
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hernandez17
4 years 4 months ago

Great article. Do you have an opinion about why the Yankees shopped him so freely? They’re not a particularly young team, so it seems odd that they wouldn’t want to build around such an elite hitting prospect.

Jon
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Jon
4 years 4 months ago

Because its easier to buy hitter than pitchers

if the yankees wanted they could replace him with Fielder to DH or wait till next year and pick up Hamilton

BX
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BX
4 years 4 months ago

Immediate need in the starting rotation. Pineda fills an area of organizational need for a really long time and gives them payroll flexibility

You also have aging guys like A-Rod and (potentially) Jeter and Teixeira down the road, who may need to take reps at DH once in a while to stay healthy. Its a waste of a roster spot to have a full time DH on the Yanks.

The Yankees maximized Montero’s value to fill an organizational need.

Brian
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Brian
4 years 4 months ago

As good as Montero may be, counting on him as the main offensive contributor is putting too much pressure on a guy who has 1/6 of a season experience under his belt.

Andrew
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Andrew
4 years 4 months ago

Yeah, but its not like Seattle is going anywhere this year. As long as he’s not a total flop this year, they’ll be happy.

BX
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BX
4 years 4 months ago

If you’re not going to make the playoffs or be contending anyway, better to be terrible than mediocre.

How did the M’s get Ackley and Hultzen again?

Jason
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Jason
4 years 4 months ago

If the Mariners lost 100 games that would mean many of their players stunk, which is not a good sign for a rebuilding team. Winning 80+ games would also help with attendance this year and next.

Antonio Bananas
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Antonio Bananas
4 years 4 months ago

BX, eventually the rebuilding has to show results. Ackley, Montero, and Smoak are all/were all ‘future of the oraganization” type of prospects. So with those three, plus Felix, plus all those other young pitchers, they should be showing results. Can’t rebuild forever.

Ben
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Ben
4 years 4 months ago

Very interesting about the thumb thing, I’d never heard that before. I kind of wonder though if with that risk if they will (or should) have him catch at all. While fantasy leaguers are praying for it, Olivo is one of their better offensive producers (sadly), more than any DH options they have, so they really wouldn’t gain all that much from him playing there. If it’s the bat they value, they should want to protect it from injury and attrition as much as possible.

hernandez17
Member
hernandez17
4 years 4 months ago

Why in the world would a franchise opt for Josh Hamilton over Jesus Montero as a big bat? Montero is cheaper, younger, and more durable. Of course you can “buy” hitting, but if you have the chance to lock up an elite bat at a fraction of the cost, why not do that? I honestly don’t understand this trade from either team’s perspective. The Yankees get a young SP with elite skills, but you don’t need elite skills to be successful on that team (see Ivan Nova).

Preston
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Preston
4 years 4 months ago

You’re forgetting that they get Michael Pineda back. The Yankees have more need for pitching. They already score a lot of runs. If they need offense going forward they can add it through FA, big contracts to hitters are just inherently safer than to pitchers.

Eminor3rd
Member
Eminor3rd
4 years 4 months ago

I don’t understand why everyone keeps ignoring context when evaluating this trade. If you actually look at each team’s construction, it makes perfect sense. The Yankees need the open DH holes to keep the increasing old and injury prone ARod/Jeter/Teixeira in the lineup for the next 5 years. In fact, by the time Montero hits his first arbitration year, ARod might be a full time DH. Those guys don’t have Montero’s upside, but they’re better right now and there will be relatively little difference in overall production of the DH spot over the next few years compared to the difference between Pineda and AJ Burnett/whatever other garbage they’d put on the mound.

Likewise, Seattle is a an offensive black hole currently sitting on a wealth of high-end SP prospects to play in their pitcher-friendly park. They’ll have to wait a year or so for them to arrive, but they suck now so turning back the clock on Pineda’s production not only makes sense, it’s actually preferable form a cost-control standpoint. They trade from a position of organizational depth to add to their biggest need in a big way.

You can argue that one player was more valuable than the other and that the trade shouldn’t have treated Montero/Pineda as equals, but you can’t argue that the talent swap didn’t make a ton of sense for both teams.

Frank
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Frank
4 years 4 months ago

I don’t disagree with the point here… but I keep wondering why Teixeira is being named in the same breath with Jeter and A-Rod. He’s 31 years old and even though he’s had two down years as far as batting average goes, he’s the farthest thing from injury prone that you can be. Even an aging Teixeira at 35 years old should be able to play first base very effectively.

Socal Baseball
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Socal Baseball
4 years 4 months ago

Not only is Seattle currently an offensive black hole..but do to it being an extreme pitchers park they will have trouble attracting top free agent hitters, especially power hitters, or any even above average free agent power hitters.

Players and smart agents will look at how Beltre’s numbers dipped at Safeco and the fact that he had to take 1 year deal to rebuild his value after his time in SEA and the offensive force has been since. They would be wise to either not sign in SEA or only sign if the deal is significantly higher than their next best offer. So basically SEA will have to overpay to attract top FA bats.

Additionally, SEA will have hard time attracting buy low free agents who had a bad year because of either luck or injury. A smart player or agent would have sign in a hitters park (BOS, CIN, TEX) even for a little less money to help restore his value.

While you would like to think that as more front offices embrace advanced stats, park effects, etc that having a down year in traditional stats won’t effect your free agent value as much. However, the fact remains that dumb GMs (or owners wanting to make a “splash”/re-energize a fan base) are often the one’s who give out the biggest contracts or dumbest contracts (see Howard, Zito, and Aaron Harang this year).

Also, while some players are embracing advanced stats, I don’t think they look at their wRC+ and not get frustrated that their HR total is down and that they are no longer getting All-Star votes.

The Mariners, just like the Padres, have realized the only efficient means to get good to great hitters to play for you is through development and trade (See the Quentin trade). Rockies due to it being an extreme hitters park and the disastrous FA signings of Hampton and Neagle have being doing the same thing now in reverse and have had success.

Putting decent pitching, whether through Free Agency or development should be easy for SEA. Smart players and agents should always look at SEA as a destination to restore value on a short term deal.

Lots of words to say that I agree. You have to judge this deal in the context of the teams situation and structure. What SEA needs right now in the sense of both winning games and attracting fans back/making SEA games watchable is someone who can just out hit and the scouting community thinks that Montero can.

hernandez17
Member
hernandez17
4 years 4 months ago

Olivo was one of the league’s worst offensive players last year. If he’s on that team, he will be catching regularly in light of what they are paying him. Montero looks to be DH all the way….Edgar 2.0?

Eminor3rd
Member
Eminor3rd
4 years 4 months ago

Excellent point on the Mariners finding more value in him at DH than at C. While him playing a competent C makes him more valuable in a vaccuum (WAR), the Mariners are a team that is so bnad offensively, Montero’s bat will be a significant upgrade at any position. No matter what the WAR says, the Mariners’ marginal offensive upgrade is equal to +1 Jesus Montero no matter where he plays on the diamond, and 150+ games of that upgrade will be better than ~120 games.

Oscar
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Oscar
4 years 4 months ago

Except for the fact that the marginal value of adding Montero is 100% dependent on the position he plays.

Eminor3rd
Member
Eminor3rd
4 years 4 months ago

That’s exactly what I’m arguing ISN’T the case.

In terms of the Mariners, who have garbage hitters at every position, however many runs Montero produces will be practically equal no matter where he plays in the field. Offensively, their team improves equally by the same margin no matter what, assuming equal playing time. Given that situation, his poor defense would actually HURT the Mariners more than using a good defensive catcher with the same mediocre bat as whoever would DH or play 1B if Montero was at C.

Now, if Montero was on the Red Sox, for example, this would be totally false. Ortiz would outproduce him at DH, spo all his valkue would be tied to outhitting Salta and Lavarnway.

IMO, this is one of the situations where WAR gets misused and feeds the mainstreams fuel against it.

Eminor3rd
Member
Eminor3rd
4 years 4 months ago

Let me clarify: I know that his marginal value is technically derived from the position he plays because he is compared to the alternative in house. My point is that all of the Mariners’ hitters are bad, so it’s relatively close to a wash in this case.

Preston
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Preston
4 years 4 months ago

I think that in hindsight we can say that the Mariners didn’t “choose” Justin Smoak over Jesus Montero. The Mariners backed out of the deal because David Adams the other piece in the trade failed his physical. At the time this seemed like gamesmanship because everybody involved knew that Adams had a sprained ankle at the time. People though Jack Z was using it to let everybody know what the Yankees had offered and open it up for bidding to make a better deal. In hind-sight we realize the concern was genuine. Adams had a fracture, not a sprain, and has struggled with plantar fascitis as a result and only played 29 games last year. So the Mariners rightly didn’t want that to be part of their return. The Yankees reasonably didn’t want to include both Ivan Nova and Eduardo Nunez as the replacement for Adams and the trade fell through. The M’s ended up getting Justin Smoak, but they didn’t choose him over Montero.

joser
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joser
4 years 4 months ago

Yes, thank-you for trying to correct the record. The narrative that got applied to that non-trade was wrong, and it has persisted ever since despite the emergence of facts to the contrary.

Jason
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Jason
4 years 4 months ago

The Mariners were concerned with the medical reports on David Adams, who ended up with a broken ankle a few weeks later.

ChrisFromBothell
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ChrisFromBothell
4 years 4 months ago

This article portrays Smoak as a bust, when he is actually just unknown. Put those 900 ABs in the context of a busted thumb, a freak bad hop to the face, some other injuries and the death of his father early last season. A healthy full season this year will tell us what Smoak can really do. We have every reason to salivate over several years of Ackley-Smoak-Montero as our heart of the order…

The Ancient Mariner
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The Ancient Mariner
4 years 4 months ago

And, one hopes, Catricala as well.

harmony
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harmony
4 years 4 months ago

I like to compare the line from Jesus Montero’s impressive 18-game MLB call-up (in a loaded lineup based in a hitter’s park) to the line from Justin Smoak’s first 20 games of 2011 (in an anemic lineup based in a pitcher’s park):

Montero .328/.406/.590/.996
J Smoak .303/.413/.576/.988

Neither sample is large enough to draw meaningful conclusions, but the bottom line is that the Mariners have not given up on Justin Smoak.

hernandez17
Member
hernandez17
4 years 4 months ago

Two reasons the trade doesn’t make a “ton” of sense, one from each side:

1) It’s hard to think that the M’s maximized trade value for Pineida by dealing him in January. Which is not to say they didn’t get good value for him — they did — it just seems like strange timing. I think they could have gotten more for him in a deadline deal.

2) The deal undoubtedly helps the Yankees in 2012, so for win-now it makes perfect sense. But it’s not every day that you get an opp to lock up an offensive cornerstone for multiple years. I get that NYY is a special case b/c they have no real constraints on spending for big-bat FA’s, but still — what if A-Rod and Jeter both combust with injuries this year? Their offense is high-powered but precarious.

Isn’t Roy Oswalt still a FA? Sign him to a one-year deal if you’re worried about your 2012 rotation, without giving up a blue chip. I love Pineida, but the AL East can make #2-ish starters look real bad real fast. Pineida has a great skill set but he will get knocked around in that park and in that division. Value of Montero at DH over replacement vs. value of Pineida over replacement….think I’d rather have Montero, to judge from the scouting.

Preston
Guest
Preston
4 years 4 months ago

A-Rod missed 60 games last year, Jeter was pretty bad for a large portion of the season and they ran Jorge Posada out at DH most days when it was fairly obvious he couldn’t touch a good fastball. Yet they were still one of the elite offenses in baseball. This team is stacked offensively at every position and that offense is in no way precarious.

Mike
Guest
4 years 4 months ago

There’s no doubt Montero will hit, but hitting is only about 60% of the equation, and if he’s never able to play a defensive position well, even 1B, it severely decreases the value of his bat.

Look at David Ortiz. Ortiz has the 12th highest wOBA in baseball the past two seasons at .393 – he’s an impact bat. However, since he’s a poor baserunner and is so bad defensively that he can’t even play the field, he only ranks 52nd in total WAR. Same goes for Prince Fielder and Paul Konerko.

DavidCEisen
Guest
DavidCEisen
4 years 4 months ago

“I think they could have gotten more for him in a deadline deal.” Any proof this statement carries any water? I’d bet the Yankees were more concerned about their rotation now and would have either signed someone like Oswalt or Jackson and/or traded for someone else before the beginning of the season. I see no reason to suspect the M’s could have gotten more than a top 5 prospect if they waited until the deadline.

“The deal undoubtedly helps the Yankees in 2012, so for win-now it makes perfect sense. But it’s not every day that you get an opp to lock up an offensive cornerstone for multiple years.” It’s not everyday you get to lock up a potential rotation cornerstone for multiple years either.

“I love Pineida, but the AL East can make #2-ish starters look real bad real fast.” And the AL East can make #3-ish starters look even worse. What’s your point?

“Value of Montero at DH over replacement vs. value of Pineida over replacement” The Yankees are using a replacement level player at DH. This is an academic argument no front office cares about, but it is hardly a conclusive point anyway.

hernandez17
Member
hernandez17
4 years 4 months ago

Quoting Dave Cameron: “I’d suggest that if Brian Cashman really thinks he’s Mike Piazza or Miguel Cabrera, as he stated over the weekend, then he simply shouldn’t have traded him.” Taken out of context but this is my point. Why are you shopping the next Miguel Cabrera? “A potential rotation cornerstone”…..by that do you mean a #2-3 starter pitching in the toughest division in baseball? The replacement argument is not academic. If they’ve proven they can win behind Ivan Nova, why are you giving away an elite prospect for a pitcher who had difficulty handling the AL WEST late last year, let alone the AL East? You’re talking about Montero/Pineda as though they’re equivalent prospects playing different positions. They’re not.

jim
Guest
jim
4 years 4 months ago

who is pineida?

joser
Guest
joser
4 years 4 months ago

That’s the refreshing drink you make from a pineilla.

Buck Turgidson
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Buck Turgidson
4 years 4 months ago

I thought those rumors about lee for montero were bullshit at the time and I still believe that. No way the Yankees deal a player of montero’s upside for a rental. Smoak was the best they were gonna get at the time.

If there’s any way to keep him behind the plate Seattle will do it. As far as “trusting young arms” to montero that’s a silly comment. No big league team “trusts” 22 year olds that much. I’m not sure you would trust the young as with olivo for that matter. Seattle isn’t good at developing pitchers because of the great catchers in the organization, lord knows

Brian
Guest
Brian
4 years 4 months ago

haha

CircleChange11
Guest
CircleChange11
4 years 4 months ago

Hey Mike,

Non-Montero related question ….

Catching 101 includes a lesson in properly protecting the thumbs – which Montero seems to have missed – as he rarely tucks his right hand safely behind his back foot and out of harms way. Taking things a step further, Montero’s bare hand “floats” mid-pitch as he adjusts to catch and frame. This leaves him susceptible to foul tips off of the hands

I’m seeing more and more guys at younger levels just make a fist with e bare hand and place it behind the glove (like when runners are on). I have my 10yo do this for 3 main reasons …

1. It’s safer provided the catcher can actually “squat” rather than just sit on their legs. Lots of catchers bare hands drift and foul tips always seem to go down or off the legs (i.e. toward the bare hand). With the hand behind the glove, it’s impossible for the hand to get hit since (A) The ball doesn’t go through the glove and (B) it doesn’t go around it either.

2. The hand and glove are already in close proximity for situations when they need to block the ball (and the glove can protect the bare hand again). At the pro level this probably isn;t a benfit since most MLB catchers block the ball with glove hand only (or rather glove protects 5-hole and chest is used as the backstop).

3. We snap throw a lot, and when the hands are at this position we cna do, even from a knee occassionally. Again, at the MLB level not a factor.

I was going to ask you if you have seen more catchers placing their bare hands behind the glove (not two handed catching like Yogi Berra), somewhere between glove and chest?

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