John Harper Reads Too Much Into Spring Training Re: Montero

John Harper of The Daily News writes:

SARASOTA, Fla. – Jesus Montero, the can’t-miss slugger, hasn’t lived up to the hype in spring training, and it’s starting to look as if the Yankees may not have a choice but to send him back to Triple-A, as much for him to get his bat healthy as to continue working on his much-debated catching skills.

Really, does it make any sense to keep Montero on the big club as Russell Martin’s backup if he’s going to get only a handful of at-bats a week – and his defense isn’t major league ready?

Only a few weeks ago, Cashman and other Yankee people were raving about Montero’s progress defensively. The GM even chuckled then over how scouts from other teams had finally stopped questioning whether the 21-year-old would have to be moved from behind the plate eventually.

Since then, however, scouts say Montero’s defense has slipped again – that he’s not moving well behind the plate, getting crossed up on pitches, rushing his throws, and generally giving off an indifferent vibe with his work habits.

“He’s not a natural,” one scout said Tuesday, “so his focus, his interest level, always has to be at a high level for him to be adequate as a catcher. If he was hitting, he’d probably look a lot better back there.”

In the meantime, the issue of what to do with him is complicated at least somewhat by the possibility that Montero’s trade value in the coming months could be as important to the Yankees as his long-term future.

Cashman is not trading his phenom pitchers, Manny Banuelos or Dellin Betances, for a veteran pitcher who could help the ballclub get to the playoffs this season – you can bank on that. Whether he would trade Montero may depend on where the Yankees are in the standings come July, and how much pressure his bosses are putting on him to make a deal.

In any case, Montero’s trade value figures to be higher if he goes back to mashing at Triple-A rather than the distinct possibility that he could struggle both offensively and defensively in the Bronx if he is playing only occasionally.

Two weeks ago, Jesus Montero was making progress defensively, impressing other team’s scouts, and looking like the gold-chip prospect that we all thought he was. Today, Jesus Montero is dangerously relapsing into mediocrity, and his trade value plummets every day. Seriously?

Spring Training performance is in no way indicative of what a player will do in the regular season. We all know that Enrique Wilson used to tear it up every spring, but then revert back to being his old self once the real season started. I’m sure Harper knows this too – but instead he chooses to overreact to Jesus Montero’s bad two weeks. Furthermore, he thinks that a short three week stint as a MLB backup catcher will expose all of Jesus Montero’s faults, destroy his trade value, and leave the Yankees without a veteran pitcher come July.

Jesus Montero is a 21 year-old catcher. There’s a reason why not a lot of catchers break into the majors at that age. Its a difficult thing to do, and there are always lots of challenges to overcome along the way. The Yankees understand that, and other teams understand that. If he’s languishing at Triple-A, other teams understand that he still hasn’t proven himself in the majors. If he’s starting slowly in New York, other teams understand that he’s 21 years old and comes with some growing pains.

The Yankees need a backup catcher for a few weeks. Jesus Montero is a better candidate than Romine, who is further behind with the bat and no finished product defensively. Montero won’t play all that much, but will gain valuable experience (which could be helpful if Montero is, as Harper points out, anxious in Spring Training) and just might start lighting the world on fire. If he lights the world on fire, he’ll stay and proceed to go Buster Posey on the league. If he doesn’t, he goes back down after playing 5-6 games to Triple-A. Either way, there’s no trade value-destroying disaster going on.

And really, why are we assuming that the Yankees will use Montero as a trade chip? If anything, the trio of Killer B’s, plus the rest of the young Yankee pitchers between Double-A and Triple-A, constitute a real surplus of MLB-ready talent. Jesus Montero has Austin Romine following him, but that’s it for the time being. The Yankees have a real need in the short and medium term for a young catcher, and betting everything on Austin Romine isn’t the soundest of strategies.

Patience has never been a virtue of the New York media, but it needs to be if the Yankees are going to inject youthful energy into their aging team from their farm system. That’s not just the case for Jesus Montero. Manuel Banuelos, Andrew Brackman, Austin Romine, Slade Heathcott, etc are all going to suffer through some growing pains when they first break into the majors, just like Jorge Posada and Mariano Rivera did. They may even not destroy the opposition in their pre-debut Spring Training appearances. Some might even bust. But it’s all a necessary process to go through.

E.J. Fagan been blogging about Yankee baseball since 2006. He is a Ph.D. student at University of Texas at Austin.

21 thoughts on “John Harper Reads Too Much Into Spring Training Re: Montero

  1. Sir Not Appearing In This Blog

    Interesting, my comment in the last post works as well, or better, here:

    “I don’t remember reading anything about Posada being the official backup catcher once Cervelli got hurt. I’m in the “I’d like Montero to start in AAA” camp and thought Posada would be a good choice for backup until Cervelli gets back. He caught about half the season last year. I think being the backup for a month is a good idea. Did anybody in the media even suggest this as a possibility?”

    and to update this, I actually meant, did anybody in the media ask about, not suggest this posibility.

    • Its a question that I’ve been asking myself as well. I’m willing to bet that since Posada hasn’t been working out at catcher, he won’t be physically fit to play the position even once a week once the season starts. Even if he’s not our starting catcher, he’s a very important long term piece to the team this season, and I don’t think its worth risking that for a few backup catcher appearances.

      I also don’t really see the downside in bringing Montero up for a short audition-ish stint.

    • T.O. Chris

      It’s Michael Kay so take it for what it’s worth, but during a game after Cervelli broke his foot Kay mentioned that Posada was not in the running to be the backup catcher and even with Frankie hurt he wouldn’t be behind the plate.

      As I said though it’s Kay so take it at face value.

  2. Hi EJ,

    I tend to agree with your thoughts on Harper’s article, but I don’t think he’s necessarily over reacting – he’s just being a typical reporter.

    I’m sure you saw the Billy Crystal movie “61*” and recall the ‘bad guy’ reporter character – he had a great line of dialogue that goes something like, “…there’s [twenty something] other papers in this town, and we can’t all write the same thing.”

    Between the explosion of sports media (blogs included) and the fact that Harper works for the NY Daily News (this is on there homepage right now: “92-year-old woman shoots up neighbor’s house – because he wouldn’t kiss her”), it’s easy to see how appealing it is to Harper (and his editor) to write this sort of panic stricken drivel that Harper probably doesn’t believe in the first place.

    In any case, I agree with your plan for Montero; send him up here in April and if it works out, great – if it doesn’t, send him back to AAA, no harm done.

    • So, I don’t necessarily disagree with you as to the cause of Harper deciding what to write. He’s looking for an angle, and this is his angle. But by virtue of his position, he is an influential person in the world of Yankee media, and someone needs to point out why he’s completely wrong.

      Also, you don’t see us in the blogs (at least on this blog) taking a contrarian position just for the sake of it. I’m perfectly fine expressing the exact same opinion as all the other smart bloggers out there. If that means that fewer people read my blog (or all blogs collectively), then so be it.

  3. Daler

    He should be spending the first 3 months in Scranton playing everyday. Him playing twice a week here is a waste.

    • I’d agree with you for 3 months. But Scranton doesn’t even start until like 10 days after the MLB season starts, so you’re really talking about just 2 and a half weeks.

    • T.O. Chris

      I think he ends up playing more than twice a week as well, he could end up starting twice a week and hitting at DH once a week, and I would take 3 games a week from a backup catcher to ease him in.

      He has nothing left to learn with the bat and nehind the plate he has 3 great teachers at the MLB level.

  4. Kenny Faust

    I personally think if this is indeed just temporary until Cervelli returns, then let Romine be the backup and allow Montero to play every day at Scranton. Then, Montero and Romine and can switch daily between C & DH at SWB once Cervelli is back with the Yankees. And I don’t understand why Posada can’t catch occasionally. It’s not like he’s totally lost all ability. Surely he will be the emergency catcher regardless.

    • So I should have mentioned this in the post, but I’d stand two arguments against Romine:

      1) He’d have to be put on the 40-man roster earlier than originally intended. This not only takes up a valuable spot, but also burns an option.

      2) He’s really not ready yet. Montero is arguably as ready as he’s ever going to be. Romine has work to do with the bat and the glove.

  5. karlovau

    Chad Moeller was good enough to back up Cervelli last year when Posada was hurt. If it really is a couple of weeks, sign Chad and don’t burn anyone’s option

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  7. T.O. Chris

    I never have gotten the idea of not having Montero backup so an even further behind catcher can backup. From all reports Romine is rough behind the plate as well and hits no where near as well.

  8. T.O. Chris

    Moeller is in the Colorado Rockies camp on a minor league deal, we have Gustavo Molina though, if anyone takes over for Montero as backup it’s probably him.

      • T.O. Chris

        Interesting, he is probably a better option than Gustavo for the simple fact that he knows most of our pitchers and they know him. Not sure I would want him over Montero but that’s a good catch and I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Yankees give him a call.

  9. thomas

    Harper is a reporter trying to make news. What did jeter do in his first spring training??? Lots of errors if I remember well. Give the kid a break and let him catch MLB pitchers and hit MLB pitchers and then see. He will learn more from a year talking to Jorge, Pena and Martin than at AAA.

    • T.O. Chris

      I think this point is being overlooked by a lot of people who have criticize his bat this far, they need to remember that the kid is trying to impress with his catching, earn a major league job and oh yeah hit like he an all-star before he has gotten comfortable with any of it. He has already been told that he won’t hit his way onto the team it has to come from the glove, it makes since that his bat will be behind right now with as much as he is taking in from a defensive stand point.

      As much as we praise this kid we have to remember at the end of the day he is still very young and with youth comes nerves and uncertainty even in the most confident. Once he is on the team you will probably see him relax a lot more and his at bats and time behind the plate should be a little smoother.

    • bronxbrain

      I fully agree with Thomas and with T.O.C. (above). Montero will learn a great deal from those three, as well as from another ex-catcher, Girardi. More important, he will gain a lot from facing major-league pitching at this point, even if it’s only twice a week. He may struggle at first, but the sooner he goes through whatever struggles lie in his path, the sooner he’ll start tearing the cover off the ball.

  10. That’s the bad part about NY sports writers. They have to write crap like this to sell papers. Nature of the beast, I guess.

    So Jesus hasn’t lit the world on fire as a 21-year-old catcher in Spring Training this year. Big f’ing deal. That doesn’t mean anything in terms of his status as a short-term backup sub or a long-term cornerstone of the franchise. I would be willing to bet that Harper didn’t believe 20% of the crap he wrote here, but he probably knew he had to write something.

    It sucks that Jesus and the rest of the gang of young studs will have to endure this, but that’s what happens in NY. Jesus will be fine.

  11. Bpdelia

    Yhis is exactly why he needs to start in the low pressure role of back up catcher. This is a point often over looked. Being a short term backup to get his fe et wet is ideal. Did being a backup hurt posadas development?

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