Resisting the urge and fan demands to get a starting pitcher at the trading deadline, New York Yankees General Manager Brian Cashman stuck to his guns and refused to trade a package of prospects for less than a sure thing pitcher. This would be a pitcher who undoubtedly would solidify the Yankees to win another World Series.
Headlining any package for a stating pitcher was Jesus Montero, a catcher built into first baseman/DH body. Cashman refused to include Montero and others for Ubaldo Jimenez, the 2011 deadlines top available starting pitcher. While Cashman did offer Montero last season to the Seattle Mariners for Cliff Lee, Cashman rightfully felt that Lee’s immense talent would put the Yankees over top while Jimenez would not improve the Yankees that much.
After Jimenez was traded to the Cleveland Indians, he has not really set the Mistake by the Lake on fire, with an ERA, WHIP and HR rate higher than what he put up in the National League.
Cashman always has said that Montero, with his tremendous opposite field power, was a middle of the order bat well-suited for Yankee Stadium and its shorter right field power alley. Middle of the order power hitters are just as tough to find as top starting pitchers. So far, Cashman has been proved prophetic.
It is very easy to state that Jesus Montero has had a nice beginning to his major league career. With seven hits in his first 20 at bats including three home runs, the casual fan acknowledges Montero’s sturdy exploits.
But the little things he does at the plate are the most impressive. The Yankee fan has heard for quite a few years that this kid was special when it came to his ability to hit the baseball. He has very quick hands and a good knowledge of the strike zone. But what Montero has shown in his first half-dozen games is far more advanced, especially for the level, than what I remember when last seeing him live.
I have not seen Montero live since his days in Trenton during the 2009 season. I also saw him play quite a bit when he was with Charleston in 2008. Back then, Montero showed lots of promise with good pitch recognition (laying off junk away) and power to both to left field and the opposite way. After Montero hit a bomb in the first game of a series in Lakewood, NJ, I was also at this game later in the series where Montero tripled to deep right center, a line drive that kept going, where Phillies top prospect Domonic Brown dove for the ball but just missed making the catch.
Brown was injured on the play and had to be removed from the game, with Montero getting his only triple that season.
Montero was impressive then and is still impressive now. There was much to like back then, but even more to like from what I have seen in his first half-dozen major league games.
What I like now in late 2011 is the new stance, a stance more balanced and compact. If you watch that video from 2008, Montero is more upright with less flex (or bend) in the knees. From viewing Montero at different points of his career, he changes his batting stance quite a bit. While I have not seen him live since 2009, I have seen quite a bit of video.
In this June 2009 video from his first game in Double-A Trenton, Montero has a very low crouch, similar to what Jeff Bagwell used, a stance where the hitter needs tremendous leg strength and trunk rotation to be continuously effective. This is due to a hitter having a tendency to “lift up” his body out of the low crouch, causing a change in the ball plane and pulling off the ball. The result is usually infield/short outfield popups to the opposite side. Montero does all that in this video.
A hitter needs to hit down and through the ball, not by lifting up his body.
Montero kept this stance in early 2010, by still incorporating the wide base but is not as far into the crouch. He uses the inward to tap as a timing mechanism both times.
But then something changed mid-season after Montero slumped May through July. He changed again in late 2010, still wide but more upright and very open. Notice how he is higher on his front toe, eliminated the smaller toe tap but used a higher leg kick.
Also notice the change in uniform numbers from 45 early in 2010 to 21 during the August 2010 videos. Sometimes hitters will do anything to change their results. But this showed me a hitter who was unsure of himself and looking for something “lucky” to help him.
In 2011 spring training it was more of the same upright stance on the front toe. But in April 2011, Montero began to use a version of his current stance. He is more balanced with a solid base (not rocking on the higher front toe), a better foundation to use his efficient load and quick hands. That April 9, 2011 home run to left field is literally a perfect swing.
Now that Montero is in the majors (hopefully for good), look for him to stop changing stances and work with Kevin Long to continue with the KLong style: balanced with a solid base, more flex in the knees, hands just off the back shoulder. This is very similar to how Alex Rodriguez, Nick Swisher, Curtis Granderson and now Andruw Jones all hit. It is amazing how Alex and Andruw now have very similar stances.
Montero has very quick hands and keeps his hands back well, especially on off-speed pitches even after he partially collapses his front side. Several times in his young major league career Montero was “fooled” on an off-speed pitch, but was still able to hit the ball hard because his hands were still back in the launch position. Hitting is two distinct parts. First you stride, then you swing, but the interesting part is they work in unison.
Montero keeps his hands back very well.
Knowing his hands are quick also allows Montero to let the ball get deeper in the zone. Along with good hip rotation, this is why Montero has so much power the opposite way. To be a good hitter, you need to allow outside pitches to travel farther to the plate before making contact. It is impossible to hit the ball consistently well on outside pitches if you hit them out in front of the plate like you would on an inside pitch.
But there are always concerns with young players. After the two opposite field home runs, and the long single off the right field wall, all the talk was whether Montero would be able to handle inside fastballs from major league pitchers.
Newsflash: very few hitters like the fastball in tight on their hands. The main reason why hitters can jump on a hard fastball on the inner third and hit the ball hard is many times they are looking for that pitch in a certain count and “cheat” a little by opening up. That is how some left handed hitters can hit Mariano’s cutter on the inside corner once in a while. They look for it and attack.
Another key on the inside fastball is to bring your hands in closer to your body during the swing to be able to get the barrel of the bat on the ball well in front of the plate.
Just over a month ago with Brian Cashman in attendance, Montero hit a 97 MPH fastball for a home run to left field. He can hit the inside fastball, and showed again Friday night with his home run to left field off of Jered Weaver. At 88 MPH, it wasn’t an overly fast pitch but was up and on the inside corner, a tough pitch for any hitter to mash.
With two strikes, it seemed Montero was looking for that particular inside pitch. This shows his ability to adjust to how he expects opposing pitchers to work him.
Montero has shown great plate discipline. I like Montero’s aggressiveness on hittable fastballs in the strike zone, and despite the first major league pitch he saw, Montero doesn’t chase many pitches outside the zone. With the bases loaded that first plate appearance, he was overly aggressive during that first pitch against Jon Lester. I believe Montero was swinging at that pitch no matter where it was, but tried to hold up when he saw it was two feet above the zone.
I imagine Montero was trying to become another Marcus Thames.
It impressed me that same first at bat when he took a couple two strike pitches out of the zone, one a fastball up and then a fastball away just off the plate. He also fouled back a couple hard insde fastballs off of Lester. However, the one pitch he seems to be susceptible is the low breaking ball from a lefty, striking out against Lester and Ricky Romero plus being out in front against Brett Cecil.
What I do not like is the fact that Montero will not get any playing time behind the plate. After Saturday night’s injury to Russell Martin, Girardi put Jorge Posada behind the plate. That is fine considering Montero was the DH that night and putting him behind the plate would have forced CC Sabathia (and all other pitchers) to bat.
But with Martin hurt and Francisco Cervelli having concussion symptoms, this would be a good time to have Montero catch a couple times a week, working with pitchers like Ivan Nova, who Montero has previously caught and a veteran like Bartolo Colon, a guy who throws lots of strikes.
While Montero’s qualities as a hitter, such as a solid, balanced stance, quick hands, knowledge of the strike zone and the ability to adjust will keep him in the majors for many years, his value will be enhanced by his ability to play a position (or two) and not just DH.
A few years ago, I ripped into Jorge Posada because he was being selfish by saying he only wanted to catch, not play first base. The idea of a team sport is to do anything to help your team, whether it play another position or teach the younger players how to be better players. Now that Posada has become more of a team player (with a little push from Joe Girardi earlier this year), it would be beneficial for the Yankees to use Montero in a multitude of roles to help the overall team.
Therefore, he needs to catch a few games a week, pick up a first baseman’s glove and learn to play there to give Teixeira a rest. That is what the St. Louis Cardinals did in 2001 when the 21 year old Albert Pujols was a rookie, when Prince Albert played four different positions to keep his potent bat in the lineup.
Montero may not seem like the best athlete in the world, but he does look more mobile now than he did earlier in the year. Also, he is still only 21 and has the youthfulness to get more athletic and become a better overall baseball player.
As I mentioned earlier, Montero’s bat will be around for a long time. He has hit everywhere he has played and will continue to hit in the majors. Cashman was correct in not trading him (and other prospects) for the likes of Jimenez, Wandy Rodriguez, Hiroki Kuroda or any other bums who would not have improved the Yankees this season.
I remember the July 31, 2011 NYBD radio show at the trading deadline when NYBD contributor (who from what I understand has a Yankee contact in Tampa who has never been correct on anything), said about Montero (at the 61:30 mark): “I don’t know why they didn’t trade him (Montero), I mean they could have gotten something for him…”
What the hell does that mean? ”By something” did Russo mean a pedestrian, BELOW league average Ubaldo Jimenez? Or a crappy Ted Lilly or non-upgrade in Wandy Rodriguez? Russo even goes on at the 68:00 minute mark to say that “many people in the Yankee organization did not think Jimenez would translate well in the American League East.”
Then why would they want to trade their top prospects for him? I bet if Russo ran the Yankees since the time Cashman took over in 2005 the Yankees would be even worse than the Baltimore Orioles, and with a $350 million payroll. At that point, all the moat seats at the stadium would be empty.
During that same show Russo also said that “the bad guys won and by that I mean the Joe DelGrippo wing of the Yankees Universe.” I am glad Cashman did not trade Jesus Montero (and Ivan Nova plus others) for Ubaldo Jimenez, Wandy Rodriguez or any of the other bums the Russo faction of Yankees Universe wanted.
Since the respective teams do not win the World Series, trade deadline deals usually do not work out well for the teams getting the veterans.
Thus far Montero has performed well and should be a young, potent bat in the middle of the Yankee lineup for many years.
I am glad the Cashman/DelGrippo wing won this battle.