The third best prospect in baseball, according to Baseball America, was almost headed to Seattle last year for Cliff Lee in what would have been a blockbuster deal before it, thankfully, fell through. The Yankees weren’t offering enough for the southpaw, and cries of a lost World Series rang throughout the tri-state area. As far as Cliff Lee, that’s a story for another day.
Before the season started, there was much speculation surrounding New York’s most heralded prospect. Jesus Montero, a 21-year-old catcher in triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, is the most likely option to take over the position that so many great players have manned before him. The only question: When will he take over?
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The Yankees answered by signing former All-Star catcher Russell Martin to a one-year, $4 million contract. To be honest, I was a fan of this signing. For his first three seasons, Martin compiled a WAR of 10 (3.33 per season) and a very attractive OBP of .373. In fact, he almost walked more than he struck out in his first three years (202 walks compared to 229 strikeouts). During his last two years in Los Angeles, his slugging percentage dropped significantly (.433 to .330), and he experienced a bit of bad luck on balls hit into play. Regardless, he didn’t appear to be the young star he was from 2006-2008. The Yankees took a chance, keeping him away from Boston, and it’s worked out in New York’s favor, so far. Oh yeah, he’s also eligible for arbitration next season, and the Yankees can likely get him back for around $4 million again. Works out perfectly.
Here’s the problem: Martin can’t catch every day. He was overworked in April, catching 22 of New York’s 24 games, and now has missed the majority of games over the past week with a back injury. And Francisco Cervelli, God love him, is no longer a suitable backup catcher. Sure, he’s come through with some great hits with runners in scoring position, but he simply can’t do his job that well. In 2009, he was terrific when he threw out 10 of 23 runners attempting to steal. Since then, he’s only caught 11 of 84 (13.1%). Recently, every time he throws the ball down to Jeter, it ends up getting past Cano and trickling into centerfield. Cervelli’s oWAR has been 1.2 since the beginning of 2010, but his poor defense has completed negated it (dWAR -1.2). Therefore, Cervelli has been nothing but a replacement-level player since the start of last season. So, why is he behind the plate?
For those that still aren’t familiar with Montero, let me tell you a bit about him. He’s a 6’3”, 235 lb. monster that can bash the ball with authority. He’s going to hit for plenty of average at the major league level and has an incredible amount of raw power that he’s showcased at all levels of the minor league system. He has great bat discipline and will draw his walks. He also hits the ball to all fields. Many scouts call him “too big” to play the catcher position and say he’ll be too slow to pop up and throw down to second when someone attempts to steal. He threw out 32% of runners in 2009 at double-A Trenton, although this number has gone down ever since being promoted to triple-A. Essentially, this kid has potential to be an All-Star baseball player.
When Jorge Posada started off the year hitting at an abysmal rate, many called for Montero’s bat to be used in the DH position. This is quite possibly the worst idea out there. Jesus Montero is going to be a catcher, not a designated hitter. It’s more beneficial for him to catch every day in the minors than to be a full-time DH. Also, what happens to all the infielders the Yankees have under contract for another three to six years? Is Alex Rodriguez really supposed to play third base until he’s 42 years old? There’s a logjam of aging stars, and that DH position is going to need to be a revolving door after this year, much like it was in 2010. Players like Mark Teixeira, Derek Jeter and ARod are going to need to DH more often over the course of the next few years.
However, a good idea would be to call up Montero to catch part-time as well as DH part-time, much like Jorge Posada and Joe Girardi split time in the late ’90s. He’s already played 174 games at the triple-A level, and he’s not going to magically become an excellent defensive catcher. Montero has the tools to be a great all-around baseball player and now is the time to leverage those tools. Who better to learn under than two former All-Star catchers in Posada and Martin? Why not have Martin catch three games a week and Montero catch three games a week? Posada can DH four times a week and Martin and Montero can each have a turn at DH. That way, all three players can play four times a week at the very least and Montero will grow under the watchful eye of veteran catchers. Oh yeah, Girardi might know a thing or two about catching as well.
If Martin is indeed going to be shelved on the DL, Montero needs to be called up.
But hey, that’s just my two cents worth.