This article is part of our John Sickels' Column series.
Later this week, we will revise the RotoWire Top 100 Prospects list. One of the players vaulting up the chart is Yankees catching prospect Jesus Montero, our subject this week.
Jesus Montero was signed by the Yankees out of Venezuela in 2006. His original bonus was $2 million. But after he spent time in instructional league that fall, his bonus was reduced to $1.6 million, and the Yankees official responsible for signing Montero (international scouting director Lin Garrett) was fired. It has never been made clear, exactly, what going on, and for a time it appeared that Montero might be a disappointment: scouts questioned his age and said he had a bad body. But even after the controversy, the Yankees insisted he was a strong prospect, and it looks like their original judgment has been vindicated. Montero hit .280/.366/.421 in rookie ball in '07, showing decent strike zone judgment and raw power but struggling with the glove. He was more effective in '08, hitting a sharp .326/.376/.491 with 17 homers in the South Atlantic League. '09 has been even better: .356/.406/.583 in 48 games for High-A Tampa, followed by a .286/.348/.476 mark in 28 games after moving up to Double-A Trenton last month.
TRADITIONAL SCOUTING REPORT
A right-handed hitter and thrower, Montero's listed birthday is November 28, 1989. Not everyone believes that, given his mature 6-4, 225-230 pound frame, though no actual evidence has ever come to light indicating to indicate that the birthdate is wrong. While he'll always have to watch his weight, Montero is immensely strong. Scouts praise his quick wrists, and his swing has few flaws, generating power to all fields. He can pull the ball for power, but is also willing to go to the opposite field when needed, enabling him to hit for both average and power. He makes contact unusually well for a young power hitter, keeping his strikeout rate reasonable. While he may never be a walk machine, he makes hard contact even when he does swing at something outside the strike zone. Considering his age, he's extremely refined as a hitter. Defense is another matter. He has a strong arm, but his release is slow and he's never been especially effective at nailing baserunners. He has improved his footwork and reliability, but many scouts still believe he is destined for first base, if not DH, as he gets older and loses what mobility he currently has. He's a slow runner and no threat to steal.
Montero is hitting a combined .330/.385/.544 this year, and his career line now stands at .322/.378/.501 in 1001 at-bats. He's done a good job tapping into his strength, and he's always shown fine command of the strike zone, keeping his strikeouts under control (just 141 in 240 games thus far) and drawing his fair share of walks. This statistical profile confirms what scouts say about him: he's not just a slugger, but is a pure hitter with pop to all fields. There are few doubts about his bat at this point, but defense remains a big issue. He threw out just 25% of runners in 2008, and has caught just 18% this year. The Yankees say that Montero has Mike Piazza-like potential, and that comparison could very well hold offensively if he continues to develop at the current pace.
FANTASY INVESTMENT VALUE
Montero projects as a .280-.300 hitter with above average to excellent power at the major league level. If he can remain behind the plate and be even adequate with the glove, that would make him an All-Star. If he has to switch positions to first base or DH, his value will be reduced, though he'll still hit plenty enough to have a long and productive career. The Yankees believe he will be their next great star, and from his performance this year that certainly looks possible.
Article first appeared 7/21/09