The arrival of Jesus Montero
Unlike most other major professional sports, in baseball it is often years before we see a highly touted player make his debut at the top level. In football we can watch Sam Bradford or Ndamukong Suh in nationally televised college games on a weekly basis and track their development. When they are drafted by an NFL team, it isn’t uncommon for rookies to get playing time from Day 1 and make an immediate impact. For the most part we have a general idea of the skills they possess, and with the help of such luminaries as Mel Kiper Jr., what areas they need to improve on.
Baseball prospects are a bit of a mystery, as we have a general idea of what their strong suits are but for the most part rely on word of mouth. The most loyal fans will follow their team’s draft picks as they progress through the minor leagues, see if they make Baseball America’s list of top prospects, and wait to hear if they are traded for established players around the time of MLB’s trade deadline. However, with our primary focus set on the success of the big league club we follow and the lack of television exposure of minor league baseball games, for the casual fan it is often easy to lose track of players as they go through the development process. Once spring training ends and they are routed to their respective minor league destinations, these players are typically an afterthought.
Certain names get mentioned on an annual basis as “can’t miss prospects”, and we follow the plight of these individuals with greater interest. For New York Yankee fans since 2006 this player has been Jesus Montero. As an ardent follower of the Yankees, I have heard the buzz and tracked the progression of Montero for years. It has been refreshing to finally have one of the premier prospects in baseball be a future Yankee, as for decades the “win now” mentality of the Steinbrenner’s traditionally led to the signing free agents over the gradual development of players. After watching Red Sox General Manager Theo Epstein continuously develop talented home-grown pitchers and everyday players, Yankee GM Brian Cashman finally began to realize the short-sightedness of the Yankee approach. After some internal debate, a few years ago Cashman was granted more control within the organization and implemented a strategy to stockpile the Yankee Farm System with young talent; this strategy is gradually starting to take shape and provide returns.
Living up to the hype, Montero has proven to be the Yankees’ best hitting prospect in years, experiencing success at every level of his brief minor league career. Still only 21, his bat has been major league ready for the past few years, and the Yankees project him as a future middle of the order threat in their lineup. This year at Triple-A Scranton (sidebar: anytime I can make a Scranton, PA reference in a column is a win-win) Montero is crushing left-handed pitchers to the tune of a .328 average, displaying impressive power and bad speed. With Mark Teixeira firmly entrenched as the Yankee first basemen for years to come, he is being groomed as a catcher, although concerns still persist as to whether or not he can become an everyday Major League backstop. These concerns prompted the Yanks to have Montero spend this season at Triple-A where he has been able to get more playing time and continue to learn the position (in lieu of being Russell Martin’s backup with the big club).
With Major League rosters expanding to 40 players today, Montero was promoted from Scranton and is scheduled to make his long awaited Yankee debut tonight against the formidable Red Sox and their ace Jon Lester. He should receive plenty of opportunities to play in the next month, perhaps earning a spot on the postseason roster if he provides the power he has displayed in the minor leagues. Even though he lacks a defined position at the moment, he will be able to slide right into the DH spot as the Yanks are in desperate need of another right handed power bat.
It feels like Montero has been a part of the Yankee organization for longer than he has given the spotlight cast on him by the NY sports media. Once deemed untouchable by the Yankee hierarchy, Montero became a central figure in last year’s failed Cliff Lee trade attempt with the Seattle Mariners. He survived, and hopefully will become a dynamic home grown talent in the mold of current Yankee great Robinson Cano. As a fan, I am excited for tonight and the coming years as the Yankees continue to slowly transition and mix in younger players like Montero with their veteran core.
With the years it takes for baseball players to develop in the minor leagues, it’s a different feel when hyped prospects make their initial appearance in the majors. As opposed to highly valued prodigies in others sports, the impact baseball players have after being drafted is often more gradual than immediate. A good portion of the viewing audience will be tuning in to watch Jesus Montero play for the first time tonight. Anticipation is high, and Yankee fans hope he can live up to expectations.