Christina Kahrl wrote a pair of articles for ESPN.MLB: Breakout hitters of 2015 and a similar article on pitchers. Included on the list are three former Mariners-outfielder and Blue Jay Michael Saunders; Yankee pitcher Michael Pineda, and reliever Carter Capps with the Florida Marlins. You remember these guys, right? I’ve already made my case against the angst-driven exile of Saunders to Upper Canada. Carter Capps has the all arms and legs delivery that looks like he might explode in a rain of falling limbs at any moment, and went to Florida in the trade that netted Logan Morrison. Michael Pineda was the piece that brought that paragon of hitting virtue, Jesus Montero, from New York to Seattle before the 2012 season.
When Pineda left Seattle, he’d spent a year as the real deal. Went 9-10, pitched 171 innings, WHIP of 1.099, struck out 173, was number five in Rookie of the Year voting. You remember him, right? Then we kind of snickered when the 2012 season began because Pineda was found to need major reconstructive surgery on his labrum and he disappeared the 2012-13 seasons. But he magically reappeared for 76 innings in 2014 and looked every bit the new and improved beast we feared he would when he was traded.
And then there is Montero. I don’t know if any Mariner has had a more embarrassing history than Jesus Montero. Hailed as the best right-handed hitter in the minors, Montero, a catcher, was from 2010-2012, rated between the #3-#7 prospect in all of basefall by both Baseball America and BaseballProspectus.com. He was a can’t miss hitter with average and power, and a few defensive warts to go along with the package.
Montero has not turned out to be that player. In his one, mostly complete season with the big club, 2012, Montero hit an uninspiring .260/.298/.386 with 99 K’s to with with his 15 homers in 553 plate appearances. Though it was his first full season, it became apparent Montero’s catching ability was terrible and he would have to learn to do something else. The M’s planned on converting the Venezuelan to a first baseman, but an injury and 50 game suspension due to participation in the Biogenesis scandal destroyed 2013. When he reported to Spring Training in 2014, the big man became the really big man, reporting to Peoria 40 lbs overweight, earning the ire of Jack Zdurencik. Montero eventually played himself back into shape, having a respectable, if not superlative season with Tacoma with a .286/.350/.489 slash line and 16 homers and was the July Mariners minor-league player of the month. But his humiliation was not quite complete, Montero was involved in an incident with a scout sending him ice cream as a taunt about his weight. Montero lost his cool in front of the Everett crowd (where he was coaching/rehabbing an injury) and was suspended for the rest of the season.
When Montero came to the Mariners, he was 22. Now he is 25. It seems like he should be 35. Greg Johns reported in a MLB.com story December 9th that Mariners brass were pleased with his off-season workouts.
“We should tip his hat do what he’s done,” Zduriencik said. “He’s worked extremely hard. He’s worked a lot of days to the point of absolute exhaustion. It was designed that way, to try to get him in a position where he went above and beyond anything he’s ever done before. I think that goal has been accomplished. Everything they’ve told me about how he’s approached this has been extremely positive.”
Perhaps his years in the wilderness have helped create a better Montero, aware of his limitations and understanding that he has no more chances. Perhaps there is a role on this Mariners team for a home-grown right handed hitter, able to pinch hit and spell Logan Morrison against tough lefties. Don’t dismiss Jesus Montero, because believe me he hasn’t forgotten the allure of the major leagues and he’s working to get back. Trust me, Jack Zdurencik and Lloyd McClendon haven’t forgotten him either.