Prospect of the Day: Jesus Montero, C, New York Yankees
The Yankees promoted prospect Jesus Montero to the major league roster on Thursday. He's been on a hot streak lately for Triple-A Scranton, and fans in the Bronx have been awaiting his arrival with anticipation.
Montero has been one of the highest-profile prospects in the minor leagues for several years. Signed for $1.65 million out of Venezuela in 2006, he exploded on the scene with an excellent 2008 season for Low-A Charleston, hitting .326/.376/.491 with 17 homers at age 18. He was even better in 2009, hitting a combined .337/.389/.562 in 347 at-bats split between High-A and Double-A, although his season ended early due to a broken finger. In 2010 he hit .289/.353/.517 with 21 homers in Triple-A, at the tender age of 20.
With no room for him on the Yankees roster, Montero was sent back to Triple-A for 2011, to get regular at-bats and work on his defense (more on that below). He had a fast start with a .365 average in April, but slumped in May and June to the point where observers felt he was discouraged due to lack of opportunity. True or not, he heated up at mid-season, slugging .514 in July then hitting .308/.370/.604 in August. He's hit five homers in his last 10 games.
Overall, he's hit .288/.348/.467 this year, with 18 homers, 36 walks, and 98 strikeouts in 420 at-bats. It isn't as good as his 2010 performance, but we are still talking about a 21-year-old in Triple-A.
The 6-3, 235 pound Montero has everything needed to be a force at the plate, including power to all fields, bat speed and strength to spare. His strike zone judgment isn't perfect, but his strikeout rate is reasonably low for a young power hitter, and while he could need some adjustment time, scouts anticipate he'll hit for average in the long run. Even a conservative estimate projects him as an above-average power hitter for years to come, and it is easy to envision him as an MVP-type producer at his peak, hitting .300 with strong home run production.
Any doubts about Montero center on his glove. He has a strong throwing arm, but his throwing mechanics are less than ideal and he's not especially effective against basestealers. He caught just 20% this year for Scranton, and 21% in his minor league career. Other aspects of his defense have gradually improved. He's steadily cut down on passed balls (15 last year but just seven this year) and errors, and he has improved his mobility behind the plate. However, despite the improvement in his statistics, most scouts still rate his defense as mediocre at best, and as he gets older what flexibility he has will likely decline. There has been some talk of making him a first baseman, but he's never played the position and that won't help him much in New York, anyhow.
In the end, Montero will likely spend much of his career at DH, and there's nothing wrong with that if his bat develops as expected. Given his sweet spot on the age curve, he should develop into a premium offensive force. Even if his glove never improves further, his bat will keep him in the lineup for a long time.