Jesus Montero Revisited

 

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== What was all the fuss about again? ==

Misty water-colored memories are all most of us have of Mr. Zero Expectations back when he had Expectations that were Non-Zero.

But all you have to do is pull up his player page on trusty baseball-reference.com and it smacks you right in the face:

  • Baseball America 2010 No. 4 prospect
  • Baseball Prospectus 2010 No. 4 prospect
  • Baseball America 2011 No. 3 prospect
  • Baseball Prospectus 2011 No. 3 prospect
  • Baseball America 2012 No. 6 prospect
  • Baseball Prospectus 2012 No. 7 prospect
  • MLB.com 2012 No. 12 prospect

People would go … “OK, Bryce Harper, and this Trout kid the Angels have is lookin’ really good.  And, of course, Jesus Montero.”

It was just natural to consider Montero an instant MLB hitting star.  And not just by shlubs hacking away at their home computers.  These guys are supposed to be the super-genius class, and they repeatedly slotted Montero at the very top with Stephen Strasburg and Trout and Giancarlo Stanton (he was still “Mike”) and Harper … and ahead of Jurickson Profar and Manny Machado and many many more.

In fact, the Expectations were about as Non-Zero as they come.

But it’s been a long three years.  I don’t know how many Deadly Sins there are in baseball, but “Sloth” is probably one of them.  “Performance-Enhancing Drugs” is another.  And “Not Hitting a Lick When You’re Handed a Starting Job in the Majors” surely counts, too.

Montero was going down the whole checklist.

But before all that, there was the guy who floated up there with Harper and Trout.  And why was that?  We have numbers!

Year Age Lvl HR% BB% XBH + BB% ISO K% PSA+ Conv+ Comp
Age Arc Slugger > 4% Goal > 8.5% Goal > 19% Goal > .200 Goal < 20% Strong Prospect > 100
2007 17 “-2” 2.44% 9.76% 17.07% 0.141 14.63% 103 85 88
2008 18 “-2” 2.99% 6.50% 15.64% 0.165 14.59% 87 93 80
2009 19 “-3” 4.49% 7.39% 18.73% 0.225 12.40% 111 118 130
2010 20 “-3” 4.17% 9.13% 20.63% 0.228 18.06% 106 116 121
2011 21 “-2” 3.89% 7.78% 15.98% 0.179 21.17% 78 84 62
2013 23 “0” 0.91% 10.00% 19.09% 0.146 26.36% 66 69 35
2014 24 “+1” 5.22% 8.96% 20.15% 0.256 22.39% 102 118 120

===

Here we should recap our approach to minor leaguers.  Our research indicates that essentially every successful MLB hitter showed the ability succeed in an age-appropriate minor league, prior to age 23.

And, in about 80+% of those cases, it was “all-around” success (that is, some level of power, patience, ability to hit the ball hard even if not slugging, and ability to limit strikeouts) — those things show up in the blue and the red in our tables.

To have that level of hitting success at a wildly young age — such as, say, in AA at age 19; or in AAA at age 20 — is a very strong indication of future MLB ability.

So, let’s get this straight.  There are guys (the late Greg Halman, for example, though not to pick on him) who rise high on the prospect charts because they look the part and have the tools, but never actually put up the results.

Montero is not one of those guys.  In 2009 and 2010, Montero put up some absolutely awesome results for a hitter of his age.  His ranking was deserved.

And — make note — Montero put up those monster numbers without a high strikeout rate.

In other words, like Brad Miller and Abraham Almonte, he has demonstrated the ability to mash the ball without being whiff-tastic.  It’s just that they sometimes forget.

But it is much more likely for a guy who has demonstrated success to rediscover it than it is to expect a guy with no success to produce it out of nowhere.

===

That being said, Montero’s fall from the rankings was deserved, too.

And 2011 was a good tip-off.  After his demolition of AAA at 20, the Yankees had him go back the next year.  Yawn.  Regression on every front.  Every number went from highlighted to un-highlighted.

Until he got to the majors!  Then he racked up the .996 OPS.

So the Yanks probably got the sense of “entitlement” and something less than the “Michael-Jordan-wants-to-kick-your-behind-even-if-it’s-just-HORSE-out-on-the-driveway’ kind of commitment, and maybe that’s why they were willing to trade.

And we don’t need to go through the whole litany of what happened since.

===

Let’s just look at 2014, as a guy in AAA at age 24.

It’s encouraging.

He’s slightly less of an all-around hitter than 2010, but his HR rate so far has gotten more prodigious.  So we can forgive a higher K-rate (though not a sky-high one, which it’s not) if he’s going to bash homers at a rate well over 5%.

And one thing we note is that even during his brief and bitter 2013 season, he was drawing walks at a pretty good pace.

We’ve found that guys who hit hard but don’t figure out how to walk (Jose Lopez, Stefen Romero) aren’t good long-term bets.  So Montero’s got that going for him.

===

Indeed, if Montero could play outfield (ha!) he’d probably be in Romero’s spot already.  But he’ll have to make it at 1b/DH, and the Mariners don’t really have that luxury unless Corey Hart is going to play more in the field (only four games so far, so don’t count on it).

This time, however, Montero’s near-death experience seems to have made him more mature.  He’s seemingly listening to the right voices — as in: not A-Rod’s Miami Biogenesis crowd — and he’s married and with a baby, too.  Presumably he can wait for the right opportunity.

That might be the “Logan Morrison” spot currently held by Cole Gillespie, but, again, the Mariners will need to be confident in their outfield situation (they’re not) before giving that spot to a 1b/DH type.

It would be pretty tasty, though, to send both Hart and Montero out there — especially against LHP — if Montero keeps on raking.  We’ll see.

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