Can Jesus Montero catch? He’s motivated to show he can

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PEORIA, Ariz. – There are some who say Jesus Montero will never be a quality major league catcher.

Analysts who rush to praise his quick, powerful bat are equally quick to pan his defensive skills. His receiving is poor, his footwork worse, they say. He’s too big (6-3, 235), and not athletic enough to play the position. His arm, while strong, takes too long to release the ball. It goes on and on, and there are numbers to back it up, as he has thrown out only 21 percent of base-stealers over the course of five minor leagues seasons.

Montero, the 22-year-old Venezuelan who the Seattle Mariners acquired from the New York Yankees in exchange for pitcher Michael Pineda, has heard the criticisms. He understands it, but he’s not buying into it. Montero says he’s been catching since he was 4 years old, and he’s certainly not ready to change positions. He loves the challenges that come from the position, the ability to control the game from behind the dish, to help his pitcher through the rough spots. He’s eager to prove his critics wrong, to show that he can be that rare breed of catcher that is equally proficient behind the plate as he is in the batter’s box.

“Most catchers don’t hit but they control the game, they know how to catch,” Montero said on Tuesday in the Mariners clubhouse. “Sometimes you have to give something away so you can catch or you can hit. But if you can do all that together you can be amazing like (Jorge) Posada, you know?”

(Listen to Montero talk about his desire to prove his doubters wrong) 

Montero draws inspiration from Posada, his former Yankees teammate who retired this offseason after 17 years in New York. Posada was never known as a great defensive catcher, but he was good enough to log 1,574 games there for the Yankees, more than 86 percent of his starts.

“If I see a big example in front of my face, it was Posada,” he said. “I want to be like him. We were together a lot. He taught me a lot.”

Montero projects to be an even better hitter than Posada, but what about the defense? Can he become good enough at the position to make the Mariners comfortable keeping him there? It’s certainly worth a try, as big-hitting catchers are hard to find. The Mariners acknowledge that Montero has some work to do to become proficient defensively, but they’re working hard to do just that.

“He’s a talented young man and we’re very happy to have him,” said third base coach Jeff Datz, who is also charged with working with Mariners catchers. “There is work to be done with him, as with all our other catchers. We like his size, we like the body, and there’s arm strength there, obviously a lot of ability to work with. Yes, he needs some cleaning up in certain areas, and we’re going through that process right now with him and with our other catchers.”

Montero is expected to be primarily a DH this season, spelling starting catcher Miguel Olivo behind the plate for 20-40 games. Olivo, for his part, preaches patience, pointing out that he also reached the big leagues in his early 20s and admitting that it took him “2 ½-3 years to really realize what I need to do behind the plate.”

 (Listen to Miguel Olivo talk about what Montero must do to improve)

 

“He’s young and he can hit already. That’s not a problem,” Olivo said. “He needs to get better at receiving and blocking, and communicate more with the pitchers. It takes time, though. I had the same problems. … That’s the thing he needs to go through now. Maybe a couple years, one year and he’ll be ready to do it.”

Montero said he’s ready for the challenge. He speaks calmly and confidently. He doesn’t seem upset by his critics, but admits that they motivate him.

“I just want to get more opportunities to catch and show everybody that I can catch,” he said. “I did it in Triple-A. I hope I can do it here, too, to help my pitchers like I did in the minors. I’m gonna work hard day-by-day to help my team. That’s it.”

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The Red Sox start is ridiculous

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The red-hot Red Sox completed a sweep of the previously red-hot Angels last night, outscoring them 27-3 in their three-game series. Last night’s game was, relatively speaking, a close one, with the Sox winning “only” by six runs. They did manage to strike out Shohei Ohtani three times, though, so some style points help make up for the “squeaker.” Also worth noting that they held Mike Trout of all people to a 3-for-11 line in their three-game series. He did not score a single time and drove in no runs.

That series win puts the Sox at 16-2 on the year. They dropped their Opening Day game to the Rays, but then won their next six games against Tampa Bay, which I’d say makes up for it. In between those two series they swept a two-game series from the Marlins and afterwards they took two of three from the Yankees and three in a row from the Orioles. The only thing that even threatened to slow this juggernaut down is the weather, resulting in a postponement of Monday morning’s Patriot’s Day game. Somewhere in here we should notice that they’re doing this with their starting shortstop and starting second baseman on the disabled list.

As we’ve noted many times, their 16-2 record is the best start in the Red Sox’ 118-year history. It’s also the best start for any team since the 1987 Milwaukee Brewers began 17-1 (let us just forget, for the time being, that those Brewers lost 18 of 20 in May of that year). They are the fourth team since 1961 to win 16 of its first 18 games.

The Sox aren’t simply getting lucky here. They’ve scored 116 runs and have allowed only 50, which is a Pythagorean record of 15-3. They lead all of baseball in offense, scoring 6.44 runs a game, leading individually in average, on-base percentage and slugging. They are only three one hundredths of a run behind the Astros from leading all of baseball in pitching, allowing only 2.78 runs a game. They’re winning all of these games because, in the early going, they’ve simply been that dang much better than everyone they’ve played.

No, the Sox are not going to go 144-18, as they are currently on pace to do. Yes, they are going to find a lot more trouble in their schedule once they play the Orioles, Rays and Marlins less, play a healthier Yankees team more and face off against the Astros, the Blue Jays, the Indians, the Twins and some tougher interleague opponents. This is baseball, obviously, and no one makes it through a season without rough patches, long, short and numerous.

Still: this has been one whale of a start for Boston. Those wins are in the bank. It’s been quite the thing to see.