Author: Bob Harkins


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


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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Clay Buchholz is healthy, aiming for 200-inning season


Some good news for Red Sox fans: Clay Buchholz is healthy, and he’s feeling so good that he’s hoping to top 200 innings for the first time in his career.

The right-hander, an All-Star in 2010, pitched only 82 2/3 innings in 2011 and missed more than half the season with a back injury. Boston fans have to wonder if the Red Sox could have avoided their stunning late-season collapse if Buchholz had been healthy, as he was quite effective when he pitched.

Now he’s hoping to rebound and surpass his career-high of 173 2/3 innings, as reported by Peter Abraham of the Boston Globe:

“I think it’s big. It’s what I want to do every time I come to spring training. It’s what I prepare myself to do,” Buchholz said. “The last two seasons came with injuries that I didn’t have any control over. It was frustrating in that aspect. But you can learn from everything. That’s what I’m coming into spring training with. Things happen and you have to take what you’re given sometimes.”

Among the other topics Buchholz discussed:

  • He, along with Dustin Pedroia, Jacoby Ellsbury and Darnell McDonald, had dinner with manager Bobby Valentine in January. Buchholz described Valentine as “a good dude” who is relaxed yet wants to have control over everyone. He meant that in a good way.
  • He also said the infamous clubhouse beer drinking had been going on for a while, and only became a big deal when the team fell apart. Buchholz did admit, however, that it was a mistake, and that Valentine will set a new tone.

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Mets will send scout to watch Scott Kazmir throw


Scott Kazmir isn’t getting a lot of attention from teams as he attempts to make a comeback, and understandably so.

He hasn’t pitched in the majors since April 3 of last season, when he lasted just 1 2/3 innings and gave up five runs for the Angels. Before that, he had fallen off badly after the Tampa Bay Rays traded him to Los Angeles in 2009.

He’s getting a little bit of attention now, however, from his original team, reports the New York Daily News.

The Mets planned to send a scout to a scheduled showcase in Houston for the team’s former top draft pick, Scott Kazmir, a club insider said Wednesday.

The story contains no quotes from the Mets’ “club insider,” but this is probably little more than a courtesy call. Kazmir hasn’t been good in a long time. Then again, the Mets don’t have a whole lot to lose just by looking.

The Mets drafted Kazmir in the first round in 2002, then sent the promising young left-hander to Tampa Bay in what became a notorious trade (from a Mets perspective) for mediocre veteran Victor Zambrano in 2004. It would be a heck of a story for Kazmir to make a triumphant return to New York, but it’s probably more likely that a point guard from Harvard will come out of nowhere to light up the NBA pigs will learn to fly.

A minor-league deal with a spring training invite is about the best Kazmir can hope for at this point.

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Happy Red Ryan Ludwick says ‘San Diego screwed me up’


Ryan Ludwick is really happy to be a member of the Cincinnati Reds.

One reason for his happiness is that he comes from Georgetown, Ohio and grew up rooting for the Reds and Bengals. Another reason for his joy is because of where he isn’t: That hitter’s nightmare known as Petco Park.

Ludwick spoke with John Fay of the Cincinnati Enquirer:

Playing in San Diego screwed me up. I’m not using that as an excuse or a crutch, but it turned me into a dead pull hitter. I got away from what I was as a hitter.”

The numbers seem to back him up. Ludwick has a line of .218/.298/.361 in 91 games at Petco, substantially lower than his .261/.332/.455 career line. It remains to be seen if Ludwick will improve enough to earn substantial playing time in a crowded outfield, but he sounded confident, telling Fay, “I think it’s kind of up to me. If I play well, I’ll play a lot. If I don’t, I won’t.”

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Bobby Valentine isn’t exactly going to rule with an iron fist


Given how the Red Sox fell apart late last season under the light touch of nice-guy manager Terry Francona, it would be natural to assume that Bobby Valentine would come in wearing steel-toed boots, ready to stomp on any player who even thinks about calling Colonel Sanders.

That assumption would be wrong. From the sound of things, Valentine isn’t going to be like that at all. In fact, the new Boston manager is going to leave the players alone to police themselves. Surprised?

In an interview on the MLB Network, Bob Costas asks Valentine if something similar to what happened last season could repeat itself under his watch.

“I certainly hope not,” Valentine said. “And I hope that it’s not because the big bad policeman’s standing on the corner and monitoring everything that’s going on. I hope it’s a conscious effort of players, coaches, clubhouse men, trainers all being on the same page, all understanding the difference between right and wrong. And I think they all know.”

So basically, Valentine is going to treat the players like adults, which sounds scary on the surface. He’s going to let ownership and GM Ben Cherrington warn the players at the start of the season that past behaviors won’t be tolerated, then step in as the new guy and do his thing.

It might actually be the correct way to handle a veteran team, but given that Valentine oversaw a Mets team that was involved in plenty of clubhouse shenanigans, it’s got to be a bit disquieting for Red Sox fans.

You can watch a clip of the interview here, and Art Martone of CSN New England has several more goodies from the interview here, including Valentine’s take on the infamous mustache he wore in the dugout after being ejected from a game in 1999. (He blames Robin Ventura). Good stuff.

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