Jesus Montero’s excellent timing

With September 1, the date that major league rosters expand, rapidly approaching, Jesus Montero seems to have turned up the heat in an effort to make it to the bigs.  In the last week, Montero made the BA hot sheet , checking in at #4 with a .364/.391/.1000 effort, plus four big home runs (he hit two in a game twice).  He’s also OPS’ing an even 1.000 in the month of August.  While I and others have criticized Montero for not performing to his potential earlier in the season, he seems to have gotten the message that he has to perform to be promoted.

How much playing time will be available for Montero is another story.  Russell Martin’s recent resurgence (highlighted by his huge 5 for 5 2 HR performance yesterday against Oakland that lifted both the Yankees and my fantasy team) has put to rest any notions that Montero would be taking over the starting catcher position anytime soon, especially because of Martin’s far superior defense.  Similarly, the DH position, largely an offensive black hole earlier in the year, has fared well with the three-headed monster of Eric Chavez or Jorge Posada against righties and Andruw Jones against lefties.

Montero’s performance this season has shown a significant platoon split, as he has OPS’d 1.049 against lefties compared to just .743 vs. righties.  Obviously there may be sample size issues, and Montero’s performance in 2010 was more balanced, but it does raise the idea that Montero will be significantly more successful against major league lefties than righties this season.  Since Jones has been very productive against lefties, Montero is unlikely to provide much of an upgrade in the DH position.

In the backup catcher role, however, Montero might find some room to play.  While the Yankees seem to like using Francisco Cervelli to catch CC Sabathia, Cervelli’s offensive production has been nothing to write home about.  Montero could catch Sabathia, a guy who probably doesn’t need much help with pitch selection or throwing out baserunners, as well as maybe an additional game or two a week to help keep Martin fresh for the playoffs.

Much of the decision-making for Montero’s utilization ultimately depends on how early the Yankees are able to lock up a playoff spot, and how close the division is.  If either the Red Sox surge ahead in the division, the Yankees might be content to give some of the young callups (including Montero) a little more playing time, to see what they have in them and help keep the starters fresh.  However, if it’s a close race that’s going down to the wire, unless he’s raking, I expect Montero to spend a lot of time on the bench.

While this may upset a lot of Yankee fans, it’s possible Montero won’t be called up at all until Scranton’s season ends.  This would maximize his chance to get catching reps without hurting the major league team too much.  Regardless of when exactly Jesus rises to the bigs, I am hopeful that the Yankees will give him a taste of big league action this September, and a chance to compete for a job next spring.