The 2014 season for Jesus Montero could be best described in one word: forgettable. Between the rough Spring Training entrance to the ice cream sandwich related exit, it couldn’t have gotten much worse. It couldn’t have, if his 2013 season didn’t involve a PED suspension, injuries, losing a starting job and being sent down to the minors.
But all that appears to be in the past for the former top prospect, we hope.
Montero impressed his superiors by showing up to camp this spring in excellent shape and reportedly losing the 40 pounds he was supposed to the previous year. It was going to take an extraordinary showing during Cactus League games to get the right-hander into the Opening Day roster, though, if that was even being considered by management.
It didn’t help Montero’s case that the Seattle Mariners beefed up the right-handed side of the lineup with free agent acquisitions of Nelson Cruz and Rickie Weeks. The pair were expected to take up the DH at-bats with Weeks seeing regular time in left field. Of course, things didn’t quite go that smoothly as Weeks struggled with the transition to part-time outfielder and was released while Cruz became the mostly-regular right fielder. But with Logan Morrison at first and Willie Bloomquist under contract, Montero still found himself on the outside looking in from the get-go.
And so, with a change in attitude, and pant size, Montero began the 2015 season with the Tacoma Rainiers and immediately began to hit.
The right-hander posted a 126 wRC+ for the month of April. May was a little less productive with an 89 wRC+, but he did double his home run total on the year to six. Montero then exploded for a 153 wRC+ and .950 OPS in June. At the time of his call-up he held a .332/.370/.529 slash line.
Mike Curto, the Rainiers play-by-play announcer, detailed Montero’s season to date and dispelled several of the perceptions that surround the slugger’s improvement. No, the 25-year-old is not directly benefiting from hitter-friendly road parks. Neither is he only pummeling left-handed pitching.
It appears that what we are seeing is Montero finally making adjustments as the season goes on. One particular portion from Curto’s piece stood out:
“If you are a scout and you saw Tacoma for five days, June 21-26, you would have seen Montero go 3-for-24 with 10 strikeouts, swinging and missing at pitches low-and-away from right-handers. If you saw Montero this past week, you would have seen him lay off those pitches and get ahead in the count.”
Sluggers can be streaky players. Look no further than Nelson Cruz or Mark Trumbo, as PI’s Luke Arkins recently examined. More often than not, over the course of a full season these types of streaks will even themselves out and we get a better picture to look at.
With the adjustments, Montero has managed to improved his ability to hit for contact and it resulted in him leading the Pacific Coast League in hits with 115 before his re-call. He’s more or less been able to maintain the power numbers he produced in 2014 only with fewer doubles and more triples — imagine that.
His .370 BABIP suggests he’s had some help in piling up the singles but it’s unfair to discredit the adjustments he’s made in favor of luck. At the same time, we are talking about a guy who has over 1500 plate appearances at Triple-A and he wouldn’t be the first to have solved PCL pitching while not succeeding in the majors.
Alas, Montero is now 25. He is no longer riding the top prospect tag. The Mariners were kind enough to comment that, entering Spring Training, expectations for Montero were non-existent. And truthfully, he has done just about everything possible to sabotage what projected to be a solid major league career. Seattle wouldn’t be the first team to give up on a player that didn’t seem to care enough about his on-field success.
With a strong first half performance, and a struggling Mariner offense, Montero finds himself on the big league squad. It could, and probably will, be short-lived as the club will need to make roster room for starter J.A. Happ who was optioned to High-A in order to make room for the right-handed bat. Dustin Ackley has been heating up and is unlikely to be the odd man out. It also doesn’t sound like the club is unhappy with the performance of Franklin Gutierrez either.
I’m not going to advocate dumping a particular player in order to make room for Montero. The club has done well to move on from Bloomquist and Weeks, and while many have been calling for Ackley’s dismissal, his ability to play center field is needed with the uncertainty surrounding Austin Jackson.
We knew that Montero was talented, it was just a matter of whether or not he was willing to put it to work. It appears that he has and the Mariners — or another team — need to give him that chance at the big league level. Picking up a single and a walk in nine plate appearances is not going to cut it for Montero, but he is going to need more than three games to prove himself in the majors.