Miguel Montero of the Arizona Diamondbacks (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
Prospect Retrospective and Career Profile: Miguel Montero
One of my favorite players is Arizona Diamondbacks catcher Miguel Montero. Let's take a look at what he was like as a prospect, and where his career currently stands in historical context.
Miguel Montero was signed by the Arizona Diamondbacks as a free agent from Venezuela in 2001. He wasn't a big-bonus guy and was generally seen as a catcher with an average arm and some power potential, but nothing special as a prospect overall. He hit .220/.343/.305 in 43 games in the Dominican Summer League at age 18 in 2001, showing decent strike zone judgment (17 walks, 19 strikeouts in 118 at-bats) but otherwise not doing much with the bat.
Montero moved up to the rookie-level Pioneer League in 2002, hitting .263/.343/.401 in 50 games for Missoula, with 17 walks and 26 strikeouts in 152 at-bats. He threw out just 19% of runners and at this point was seen as a marginal prospect, if you noticed him at all. He returned to Missoula in 2003 and boosted his performance, hitting .301/.352/.434 in 59 games and throwing out 25% of runners. He was repeating the league, of course, and still under-the-radar as a prospect.
That began to change in 2004. He hit .263/.330/.409 with 11 homers, 36 walks, and 74 strikeouts in 115 games, 403 at-bats, for Low-A South Bend in the Midwest League. He was rough defensively and spent part of the season at first base, but his power production was starting to increase. I got to see him play for the first time that year, and wrote down a scouting note in my notebook saying "interesting bat, but doubt he can catch." He would have been a Grade C at that point but I didn't put him in the 2005 book.
I wish I had done so, for Montero was a force in the High-A California League in '05, hitting .349/.403/.625 with 24 homers, 26 walks, and 52 strikeouts for Lancaster. He threw out 33% of runners and made progress refining his receiving skills. On the other hand, he hit just .250/.311/.352 in 30 games after being promoted to Double-A Tennessee, and a lot of scouts dismissed his High-A numbers as California League/Lancaster illusion. I gave him a Grade C+ in the 2006 book, writing that "he is young enough that the improvement might be for real" but that some skepticism was warranted.
Montero eased that skepticism in 2006. He hit .270/.362/.436 with 10 homers, 39 walks, and 44 strikeouts in 289 at-bats for Double-A Tennessee, then .321/.396/.515 with seven homers, 14 walks, and 21 strikeouts in 36 games for Triple-A Tucson. He went 4-for-16 in a major league cup-of-coffee. I saw him pay for Tucson and was very impressed, noting that Montero "has crafted a swing that translates (his) strength into production" and that he "should be a productive catcher capable of putting up above-average OPS marks" with solid defense. I gave him a Grade B+ and ranked him as the Number 29 position player prospect.
Montero played 84 games for Arizona in 2007, losing his rookie eligibility. He hit 10 homers although his overall .224/.292/.397 line was considered disappointing. He improved to .255/.330/.435 in 2008 (WAR 0.7), then continued to improve in '09 (.294/.355/.478, 16 homers (3.0 WAR). An injury-plagued '10 season was forgotten after a strong '11 (.282/.351/.469, 121 OPS+, 18 homers, 4.3 WAR).
Overall in his career, Montero is a .271/.338/.451 hitter in 513 games, with a 105 OPS+ and a career WAR of 9.5. His defense has improved to the point that he threw out 40% of runners trying to steal on him last year, the best in the league, and he earned an All-Star nod for the first time.
His Comparable Players by Sim Score through age 27: Mike Lieberthal, Jody Davis, Sammy White, Earl Battey, Jim Pagliaroni, John Romano, Geovany Soto, Rick Wilkins, Ed Bailey, and Harry Danning. There are no superstars on that list, but they were all productive hitters with enough defensive ability to stay behind the plate.
Montero has turned into a very valuable player, not bad for a guy who wasn't a big-name amateur, didn't excite anyone in the DSL, and wasn't a hot prospect for most of his minor league career.