Yanks' Montero slugging, turning heads
Bat earns 20-year-old catcher coveted spot on prospect list
NEW YORK -- Each loud drive off Jesus Montero's bat moves him a little closer to Yankee Stadium, and the Yankees can't help but wonder what the future will hold for the slugging catcher.
Montero was announced on Wednesday as one of MLB.com's Top 50 Prospects, ranking No. 19 and serving as the only Yankees representative on the list. The Bombers believe they have a winner in the 20-year-old, who finished last season putting on a show at Double-A Trenton.
"Offensively, he's an outstanding player," Yankees senior vice president of baseball operations Mark Newman said recently. "He can flat hit, and he can hit with power. He hits the ball to all fields. It's a special hitter, one of the best we've had since I've been here.
"We've had guys do what Derek [Jeter] did as a young player, but beyond him, Montero is right at the top of the list. He's got ground to cover, though. Obviously not many of the chapters have been written in his story, but if he keeps working at it and keeps his head on straight, I think he will do all that stuff. He's got a chance to be an awfully good player."
Signed as a non-drafted free agent by the Yankees out of Venezuela in October 2006, Montero has moved quickly, hitting .326 with 17 home runs and 87 RBIs for Class A Charleston in 2008 as a teenager playing his first full professional season.
Montero opened 2009 with Class A Tampa and burst on the Florida State League scene, hitting .356 with eight home runs and 37 RBIs in 48 games to earn a promotion from the notoriously pitcher-friendly league.
At Double-A Trenton, Montero hit .317 with nine home runs and 33 RBIs before breaking the middle finger of his glove hand in what was a season-ending injury. But his performance was enough to suggest that Montero should be ready to try his big bat at the Triple-A level to open the 2010 season.
"He can mash," said Patrick Teale, who covers the Yankees for Pinstripes Plus magazine. "This guy could be [Albert] Pujols-like, he could be [Mike] Piazza-like. He's got that kind of bat. He can hit for average, he can hit for power, he can hit any pitch and he's got a good approach at the plate. He doesn't really walk a ton yet, but I wouldn't let the small amount of walks disguise the fact that he's a pretty patient hitter, very selective. He's a complete hitter."
There have been some questions about how the 6-foot-4, 225-pound Montero can project as a Major League catcher, but with Mark Teixeira firmly entrenched at first base for the majority of this decade and no need to immediately promote such a young designated hitter, the Yankees are suggesting that Montero could someday step in for Jorge Posada.
"He came a long way this year defensively in the second half, before he hurt his finger," Newman said. "He threw out a higher percentage of runners in Double-A than A-ball, and of course a lot of that depends on the pitching staff you have. But he changed his throwing footwork a little bit and it seems to have really helped him defensively.
"He was a 19-year-old kid playing what I think is the most demanding position on the field defensively, and he's got improvements he's got to make. But his hands are good and he's got arm strength. He's a big guy, so he's going to always have to work at lower-body flexibility and general conditioning, but he's been doing a good job of that."
Ultimately, Montero's offense is expected to carry him to the Major Leagues as a plus performer, no matter what position he is asked to play. He could see big league time this September -- or perhaps earlier in the event of injuries -- and once he arrives in the Bronx, it shouldn't be too long before he is garnering even more attention.
Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.