The Failed Jesus Montero Experiment

After his demotion to the minors, we may have seen the last of Jesus Montero, Everyday Player. (USA TODAY Sports)

After his demotion to the minors, we may have seen the last of Jesus Montero, Everyday Player. (USA TODAY Sports)

And so the great experiment comes to a close, at least for the foreseeable future.

The Seattle Mariners have demoted Jesus Montero to Triple-A Tacoma and in his stead, Jesus Sucre — an actual catcher — has been promoted to the major league team to back up Kelly Shoppach, who has the starting job for the time being after the 23-year-old Montero played his way out of it. So that leaves him with a fairly ghastly season line of .208/.264/.327 in 110 plate appearances this year in the majors, and a career line of .258/.303/.396 in 732 PA, and at this point in time it’s very possible that Thursday’s roster move is the last we’ll see of Jesus Montero, Everyday Player.

Montero’s only value, of course, is his bat. It’s not that he’s a bad catcher, or that he’s a bad first baseman, or that he’s slow — he has negative value in all these things. Behind the plate he was a plague upon the Mariners’ already-thin and top-heavy pitching staff; out at first base he’s got slow feet, terrible instincts, and, well, if you’ve watched him “catch,” you’ve seen how well he handles balls thrown in the dirt.* As a baserunner he’s practically useless, the very definition of station-to-station. So if the bat isn’t there, and right now it’s not, there’s absolutely no reason to keep putting him in your starting lineup — in fact, there’s every reason in the world to sit him on the bench or on a bus out of town.

What happened to the bat? That’s simple enough: Though he was hailed very loudly as one of the best hitting prospects in baseball when his rights were held by the New York Yankees, no one — the Mariners included when they traded Michael Pineda and Jorge Campos to New York, in what would have been an amazing fleecing if both those pitchers hadn’t immediately suffered injury-related implosions — anticipated that Montero would be unable to hit right-handed pitching at the major league level.

Montero is right-handed, but optimists and believers in his bat thought that given time and maturity that platoon split would come around with his pitch recognition (or that he’d be so good in general that it wouldn’t matter), especially since Montero hit righties fine in the minors. That hasn’t been the case so far. And hitters simply cannot get away with being bad against right-handed pitching in the majors the way they can against lefties, if their bat is going to have high value.

Three years into Montero’s career, he’s a .226/.267/.365 hitter against righties (480 PA); he strikes out more against righties, walks less, and makes atrocious contact when he puts the ball in play. If Andre Ethier, for example, had his platoon splits flip-flopped and was an MVP against lefties and a sub-replacement level scrub against righties, at best he’d be signing one-year deals for $2-4 million a season until his bat started to slow down. Something around 70% of the pitchers in the majors throw right-handed — there’s too many of them around for a player (especially one whose only redeeming feature is his bat) to be unable to hit them and expect to play every day…or in the majors at all.

I doubt we’ve seen the last of Jesus Montero even if he never does figure out righties — he’ll get hot one of these days in Tacoma, aided by the launching pads of the PCL, and we’ll have articles proclaiming he’s made good on his promise and is the next Jose Bautista and #FreeJesus and all the rest, and then he’ll come up and he’ll still be a guy who can’t run, field, or hit 70% of the pitchers in the league.

There’s always an outside chance he develops into Edgar Martinez, like people have been dreaming. He’s still only 23. But there’s a better chance he develops into a useful but flawed player, sort of like Jack Cust, and spends about as much time in the league in his late twenties as Cust did. Or maybe he’ll kick around the league for a while as a reclamation project, then perhaps as a bench player on an American League team, then a Triple-A journeyman. Jesus Montero is probably a bust, and that happens. It’s time for Seattle to move on, and let him play his way back onto the team if he can. The only real question I have left about the whole affair is: When does Dustin Ackley join him?

* * *

*A clarification about Jesus Montero and first base: No, he has not played there in a game. The Mariners have worked Montero out at first base during spring training and other camp-setting exercises, and never put him in a game based on what they saw from him there. That’s important: They never put him in a game, despite not having any real option at first due to Justin Smoak being in free fall, and even though if Montero’s bat does work out they’d want him to play there anyway, to keep his bat in the lineup on his rest days. The fact that Jesus Montero has never been asked to play first base before is less a symptom of how “easy” the position is to play, and more of how little Montero has progressed as a defensive player in general. It’s also recognition that he has so much to learn there that they don’t want it to be a distraction to him while trying to get his catching somewhere near passable. Jeff Sullivan voices similar concerns about Montero trying to learn first base at U.S.S. Mariner.

First base is “easier” than other positions, but it is not easy. It requires fewer physical tools than a middle infield position, but it does require them, and they’re not always the same tools. As I mentioned, there’s one crucial skill that a first baseman needs that we’ve already seen Jesus Montero display — the ability to catch the ball when thrown to him, whether in the dirt or on a bounce or while extending. Montero’s receiving skills have, to date, been a nightmare. He won’t have to catch breaking balls anymore, this is true, but the ball’s going to be coming to him from weird angles at varying times and speeds, and to be good at his job he’s going to have to go get those throws just as often as he’s going to be able to stand there and catch them. Nothing about the Jesus Montero that we or the Mariners have seen so far has indicated that this transition to first base will be an easy one, or will result in even an average defender. If that was the case, he would’ve played there already.

64 thoughts on “The Failed Jesus Montero Experiment

  1. Now you will find out if he really wants to be in the show or not. Time to get into real shape and stop thinking that he can just float his way into a MLB job. If he doesn’t want to work hit butt off to get back he will work his butt off in the real world for way less money. It is on him now.

  2. We watched Montero in Scranton for 2 years and we knew after the first 30-40 games he was a lazy player with some talent, not much. Yes , he cannot run, field or throw, but that says lots about the scouts who rated him. They throw things against the wall just to see what sticks ! He will go home sooner than later with what he already earned, too lazy to work at improving. By the way, you are a terrible writer, work on your prose and sentence structure !

    • “By the way, you are a terrible writer, work on your prose and sentence structure !”

      Says the judgemental knucklehead who himself suffers from poor sentence structure AND a deplorable understanding of punctuation.

      Pot. Kettle. Black.

      • You are right, I am not the best , or even close when it comes to writing, but then again I don’t write for a living and put my work out for everyone to see,and hopefully understand. I have my faults but in my chosen profession I am one of the best.!

        • What does prose mean. I am also curious why his sentence structure is poor. I’m not a writer, but I like correct punctuation’s, and reading in general. I know this is not the place for this discussion, but everyone i know is lazy in their writing skills. I attribute this all to texting. I’m 32 and grew up with texting and Internet slang. I would appreciate a response, thank you.

        • Tommy C, is your chosen profession in the custodial arts? You seem to lack the brains or the personality for anything more mentally demanding.

          • Ryan, You seem very defensive and aggressive,, you must be a failure at something, care to share !

    • An OpEd article isn’t supposed to be a technical masterpiece. Work on your prose? WTF? Do you understand what prose means? Work on your prose and sentence structure is like saying Montero should play DH. They contradict each other.

  3. Is it just me or do Yankee prospects seem to be WAY overrated? Outside of Cano, and arguably Gardner, has there been one that hasn’t completely flamed out? Since the mid-90’s they haven’t generated much.

    • It’s not just you. Yankees fans sometimes get angry that they seem to trade all their prospects, but it always seems like they haven’t given anything up. Remember Dioner Navarro? They have had some luck with pitchers, but even there they have had to sign marquee players off the free agent market. That’s why the fans loved those 90s teams so much- with Bernie, Jeter, Rivera, Pettite, Posada, etc., they had a real homegrown team that won a lot. The guys now are winning, but you just can’t beat watching players come up from within your team’s system.

      • It also demonstrates one of the dangers of comparing the prospects they have now to that group of prospects from the early/mid 90’s. That was a once in a lifetime group of players who ALL paid off at the major league level to the point of becoming future hall of fame (or a slight notch below that) players. That’s a rarity for any farm system. So while one may say the Yankees over-value their prospects, I think the same could be said for most major league teams. They all tend to think more highly of their own prospects than other teams think of them.

        What makes Montero interesting is that if he really is a bust with the bat, then he sure did fool a whole lotta people, and not just the Yankees and Mariners people. What I’d like to know is what is it about Seattle that turns these excellent hitting prospects like Montero, Ackley, and Smoak (ALL of whom were considered can’t-miss bats) into shadows of their potential? Is there something organizational at play here? Is it the stadium? That’s either a string of really bad luck or maybe there’s just something about the way that organization helps develop their young hitting talent. Just a thought.

        • There’s a thought that Seattle has been rushing some of these players up to the big leagues a little too fast. I think they did that with Ackley, maybe not Smoak so much, but Ackley should have spent more time at the AAA level. They’re being much more careful this year.

    • They had Austin Jackson who is starting to play like a true star for the Tigers. Also, dont forget about Kennedy on Arizona. He pitched like a true ace. Phil Hughes has started pitching as well.

    • If the Yankees talk-up a prospect, run away from him! The Yankees always over-hype the talent they want to trade. The players they keep -(Cano, Melky Cabrera, David Robertson, Gardner) we’re all unknown and under hyped. Montero was over-hyped like this. The Yanks knew he was flawed, but hyped him to improve his trade status. Remember, when Posada went down and the Yanks needed a catcher, Montero was never put behind the plate. If they did, his true talent would be exposed and his trade value would of dropped.

    • “Outside of Cano, and arguably Gardner, has there been one that hasn’t completely flamed out?” Yes, there have been some that have not completely flamed out:
      -Phil Hughes
      -Joba Chamberlain
      -David Robertson
      -Chien-Ming Wang (was very good until injured)
      -Ian Kennedy
      -Tyler Clippard
      -Austin Jackson
      And there are probably more that do not come to mind right away.

      • Joba Chamberlain? HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAA!

        That was a good one. Talk about flameouts…

    • Lol, Wang was just fine until an injury changed that.

      Hughes and Joba haven’t been aces but you could hardly call guys with 4.30ish ERAs as starters “flame outs”.

      Gardner is an every CF that most teams in this league would love to have.

      Robertson is arguably the premier set-up guy in the league.

      Phelps was phenomenal last season and is tossing out a 3.50ish ERA this season.

      Warren, Claiborne, Nuno & Adams are looking outstanding thus far.

      A dude named Soriano came out of their system in 2001 and has had a decent career, including a 40-40 year and a couple of near misses. They then traded him for the guy who was at the time the best player in the game.

      So if people think every guy has to be an all-star or the “absolutely bestest guy on Earth” then maybe they have been over-rated.

      But if having decent careers is the standard then “flame outs” is not even close to the appropriate word.


    • Prospects overrated? You would have to look at other teams rosters to see those good Yankee prospects…..they have quite the fancy for trading prospects for current MLB’ers come playoff time

  4. So I don’t know if you actually did any research for this piece, but Montero has never played an inning of first base in the major leagues. It stands to reason that he’d probably suck at it, since he seems to suck at just about everything else baseball-related, but it’s not exactly quality writing to say that a guy has struggled at something he’s never actually attempted.

    • Wow, what a glaring mistake. Here they are talking about his slow feet and terrible instincts at first… and yet he’s never been out there in a major-league game. Perhaps the writer knows something we don’t. Did Montero play 1B during spring training or in the minors? Has he maybe been working out there and demonstrated that he’s hopeless at the position? I imagine it’s something like that. There may have even been a sentence to explain how the writer knows Montero is terrible at first. It’s possible that an editor removed a key piece of information like that. Regardless, I don’t doubt that Montero probably would make David Ortiz look like Mike Squires if the M’s gave him a shot at 1B.

      • He’s apparently going to get some work at first base down at Tacoma, and he did a bit of work there in spring training, but there’s no way that we could pass any real judgement about his ability there yet, other than to assume that his utter lack of defensive ability behind the plate will probably carry over. This is a reasonable assumption, but it’s not phrased as an assumption in the piece, it’s described as though it’s fact.

      • Montero for Pineda. Really hyped trade, Really overhyped players. I dont think Pineda has played a game in pinstripes yet, and Montero has done more hurting than helping so far.

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  6. Now you know why Cashman made the move and traded him to Seattle.I for one a Yankee fan wasnt or going to wait years for him to mature in MLB.I’m content to have Cervelli behind the plate when he is healthy again. Thankyou again Wayne “the genius” Cashman….some Yank fans take you for granted but you’re one of the best GM’s in baseball……

  7. Uh seriously? No Yankee farmhands in the bigs? Really? Does Austin Jackson count? Do you want a list? Just Cano? Not Robertson? Or the Great Rivera?

  8. Send Jack Z of mariners to the minors. His trade by stats is joke and Montero for pinada is one of the worst. Vargus, Morrow, Harang, Feister, Jones, and ten other bad trades by Jack Z have set the Mariners back in bottom division standings for years.

  9. It’s nice to bash a 23 year old prospect. I couldn’t understand why the Yankees traded Montero. Especially, after knowing Posada career was ending. Now I understand. If Montero is serious about his career he would train harder, lose about 30 pounds, which would improve his speed, and agility. This may sound easy. but its hard to do. At Scranton he looked, like he was the future Yankee Catcher. I hope he gets smart and gets his career in order.

    I’m a Met fan, so I don’t have much love for the Yankee’s. But bashing there minor system, is out of line. Every year they have one of the top minor systems. Just look at this year, when all there stars are out and they are still on top of the AL East. That strong bull pen came out of the Yankee organization. Also all organization over rate there prospects so if they have to trade them, someone will think they are get a great player. Miami made that big trade, with Toronto, They probably knew Johnson and Burlie . Had nothing left. Be wary about trading Star’s for prospects, I most cases it a bad deal. Look at the Mets Beltran trade, he still one of the best outfielders in baseball, and Wheelers still in the minors. Although the Met’s are a bad example, no team would give up he top shortstop in baseball and best lead-off hitter in the game for nothing, deserves to be in last place.

  10. “Wayne ‘ the genius’ Cashman”, What would baseball fans do without the daily introspective musings of the Yankee faithful?

  11. Yankee fans can love the team, haters can hate the team. But facts in baseball are all codified by numbers. Above is written as if “Cano” is just some anomaly when he is not. The Yankee system has produced ++ MLB players active today, as well as + players. Montero has the power swing developed for Yankee stadium. The only question is if he can adjust to major league pitching while playing his home games in Safeco and with Seattle coaching. Does anyone need a list of one dimensional players who have been all-stars and dominated both leagues? The above premise is certainly based on too small a sample size. Just as a hitter, never judge what you have before 1000 AB’s lest you long to give away a future Hall of Famer. The rare talent: Cano, Trout, and so on show themselves quicker but please, don’t be fooled by failure in a sport where .280 is the new .300. To be clear: the top hitters in MLB fail 72% of the time. Give Montero back to the Yankees if you like, but do not bet against him.

  12. That is about as brutal an article as I have ever read. Could every single professional talent evaluator have been totally wrong about this guy? I don’t think so. Mark it down. Jesus will be back – and with a vengeance.

    • I think it’s a slow news day and a choleric writer. A 23 yr old being sent back to AAA for a little while is far from unusual.

      Montero hit well at times last year. He lacked plate discipline, which isn’t surprising given the offensive load he was asked to shoulder. The rest of the M’s offense is a little better this year, which should take some of the pressure off, but now Montero’s trying to learn to be a big league catcher. Too much, too soon. Too early to call it a failure.

  13. Yank fans were optimistic about Montero b/c of comparison to Posada’s benchmarks at this same age. Jorge was 26-27 before he became a full-time catcher for the Yanks, was criticized for his foot speed, and modest catching defense but there was hope for his bat – he was about 28 before he broke out as a major league player. Jorge was not burning it up at Columbus (AAA) when he hit the bigs BUT, he was a switch hitter and the author of this article rightly points out that a right-handed only hitter is a limitation.

  14. It is really a failed experiment when Pineda has not produced anything for the Yankees? Montero is still young enough, he just needs to be a DH and let Zunino take over the every day catching duties. He will have a long career, but he needs to improve. He may take a while to develop like Alex Gordon and others have over the years.

    • I think the “failed experiment” part relates to both the Yankees and the Mariners trying to force Montero into being an every day catcher. It’s a role he simply cannot perform on a daily basis in the big leagues (and still be effective as a hitter, anyway).

    • safeco field and petco park could harm the development of young hitters especially those who hit for power. Montero as many latin american players lacks plate dicipline and must learn how to hit righties however I think that a change of scenerio maybe even a trade could help I dont believe he is a loss case maybe he can play first base

  15. When The Mariners acquired Morales and unloaded Jaso and Olivo they set Montero up for failure. He caught 40 games behind the plate last year and everyone in Seattle knew he wasn’t an everday catcher, hence Zunino 3rd pick in draft. But he did hit .260 with 15 homers. He was only 5 hard outs from having the same numbers this year and believe me he hit the ball hard on several occasions. But he can’t catch and Morales stole his DH job. So now he’s the whipping boy meant to appease the jackals When in reality everyone knows it’s starting pitching that is letting us down.

    • the mariners knew he could play catcher you just dont learnd how to play catcher he can be a decent player on another team however the problem seattle is deeper they havent develop any young hitters smoke, ackley possibly is the coaching staff

  16. Interesting fact: 3 of Montero’s home-runs last year were hit off Jared Weaver. So I don’t feel like Montero’s as bad as you think he is against rightys.

  17. This is so funny, I remember when cash man made the move trading this guy, everybody was talking a lot of crp, once again, cash man is the best in this business!

    • The guy Cashman got in return for Montero, whom has already hit almost 20 HRs and has 70 RBIs for the Mariners, is Micheal Pineda whom has yet to pitch for the Yankees in a MLB game, and has a DUI on his record from last August.

  18. Montero, so far is a bust. And so is Smoak. And so is Ackerly. Such is baseball. Wasn’t Billy Beane one of the most sought after prospects in baseball?
    That’s baseball.
    For every Felix Hernandez there is a Montero.
    Time for the Mariners to jettisome these projects and move on.

  19. …says the much more mature 7th grader posting on the board.

    While I’d agree with you that Beltran is no LONGER one of the best OFs in the game (I looked, he’s ranked 47th for WAR out of OF), the Giants needed to do something to try and save their season after Posey’s injury. Beltran 2011 was certainly among the top 5 RFs. These rentals happen all the time during pennant races.

    As a side note, pitching prospects, if you haven’t noticed, are coin flips. Who’s to say the Yankees won this trade when Pineda hasn’t toed the rubber yet in 2013?

  20. Lazy and dumb are not a good combination. Hope this is the last the Mariners’ big club has seen of Montero, unless he can find it within himself to want to win some games. I want to see Sucre and Zunino. Ackley is lost, also. I’m happy to see the team finally making some moves. It might make things worse, but you don’t keep putting the same team out there night after night expecting a miracle. It’s been too many years of this garbage…

  21. Before the disastrous Cleveland series, the Mariners looked like a team that could make a move in the division and, if not contend, at least give trouble to the contenders. Blaming Montero for the troubles in Cleveland and Anaheim is lazy
    thinking. It’s the back end of the rotation that is the main problem for the M’s. They need some consistent competitive starts from 3, 4 and 5 otherwise, it’s another year waiting for next year.

  22. “despite not having any real option at first due to Justin Smoak being in free fall”


    Smoak is the only one of the three “can’t miss” prospects that’s being showing any progress.
    Makes me wonder if this is just another case of the west coast media noticing that there’s a story and saying to themselves “Uh Oh! time to write something about the little Seattle Mariners. I don’t know anything about the Seattle Mariners, but that doesn’t matter because neither does anyone else and I can just make stuff up! Ho Ho Ho”

  23. “…the end of him being an everyday player”….

    Hyperbole much?

  24. Catcher is the hardest position to play in the majors. Most MLB catchers cannot hit. I don’t think it’s fair that we are holding this guy’s feet to the fire. He does have offensive talent. Move him to DH or 1B. Hell, there are plenty of terrible outfielders in this game, let the guy play RF. Stop pushing him to catch. Focus on developing his offense, and get his potential. Stop trying to make chicken salad out of chicken schitt.

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