When he was in the Yankees farm system, Jesus Montero was considered one of the best hitting prospects in the minor leagues. He was strong. He was fierce. He had both the fire and the attitude. The Jesus was good. All that seemed to be missing was the purple leisure suit and the pony-tail. Oh yeah, and a glove. But the Yankees were almost willing to overlook the defensive shortcomings of their rising star if it meant getting that bat into the heart of their lineup. But a need for pitching took precedence and the Jesus was soon headed west to Seattle in exchange for a young, stud arm in Michael Pineda.
Regardless of Pineda’s shoulder woes and who won or lost that deal, there were immediate questions as to what Montero’s production would be like playing half his games at pitcher-friendly Safeco Field. Everyone knew that it would sap some of his overall power, but he was still considered a strong enough hitter to make up for the reduced home runs with a high average and quality RBI-production. But during his first two months,the opposite held true as he was batting under .260 but had seven home runs and 20 RBI. Things leveled off and he batted .278 for the second half while seeing his home runs and RBI dip, but overall, it was a fairly successful rookie campaign considering the adjusted expectations.
Heading into this season though, with a full year’s worth of major league experience under his belt and the fences coming in at Safeco, the expectations were growing lofty again. At the urging of his coaches, Montero spent the offseason working on his defense as the Mariners were prepared to do what the Yankees almost did just two years prior. They saw enough potential with the bat that they were willing to sacrifice some defense behind the plate in order to keep his lumber in the middle of their lineup.
But somewhere along the line, the Jesus lost his mojo and his plate discipline, or lack thereof, has become a problem. His walk rate in the majors continues to plummet and while his 17.9-percent strikeout rate remains consistent with what he did last year, he is swinging through a lot more pitches and has seen his swinging strike rate spike to a very unhealthy 11.1-percent. And though his swing rate isn’t as high as it was last year, he is still swinging at nearly half of what gets thrown in his general direction and feebly popping most of it up. His fly ball rate has increased by more than 10-percent while his HR/FB is less than half of what it once was. It’s as if someone from the Bronx, stinging from the fact that Pineda has yet to throw a single pitch for the Yankees, made a voodoo doll of the Jesus and literally took the bat out of its hands.
With these struggles, Mariners manager Eric Wedge has grown tired and has demoted the once can’t-miss prospect from primary catcher to platoon-partner behind the dish with veteran Kelly Shoppach. Usually, when a manager mixes in Shoppach, it’s to make up for his other catcher’s ineffectiveness against left-handed pitching. That’s actually supposed to be one of Montero’s better assets which just tells you how disappointing he’s really been and now over the last 10 games, the two catchers have split time evenly.
Now something has to give here because there’s simply no way this situation holds all year long. At 33 years old, and having played in more than 100 games just once in his eight-year career, Shoppach isn’t going to be able to play effectively in half of the Mariners’ remaining games and until Montero re-discovers his suddenly missing bat, the team is not going to tolerate substandard defense without big-time offense offsetting it. With prized catching prospect Mike Zunino playing a strong game down in Triple-A, the Mariners actually find themselves in a pretty good situation. They basically lost nothing in acquiring Montero, so either he starts to hit the way he’s supposed to and the team comes out ahead or he doesn’t and the team replaces him with Zunino and they trade Montero, basically getting something for nothing.
Either way, this is not a good situation for fantasy owners. Montero was supposed to be a top 10 catcher this year and many made the investment with their sights set on a potential 20-homer season. What they’re sitting with now is far from it and frankly, the outlook seems bleak. It’s still way too early to give up on a backstop with such strong potential, but unless things turn around soon, you should feel like you just rolled your way into the semis and got F’d by the Jesus.
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