Yesterday the news leaked that the Yankees plan to use their top prospect Jesus Montero as their main catcher next season. The plan is to use him in about 100 games behind the plate which pushes longtime catcher Jorge Posada out of the role.
Montero has been the Yankees unquestioned top prospect for a while now, but it hasn’t been clear that the Yankees would go this way.
The biggest issues is that these are the Yankees. They are seemingly always in a position to win it all. It’s a great atmosphere to watch a baseball game, but it is far from an ideal situation to hold on to a prospect, let alone break him into the majors.
Over the past two years the Yankees haven’t exactly been shopping Montero, but his name has been linked to countless rumors. Anytime a team is talking trades with the Yankees they have asked for him.
The Yankees got serious in trading Montero about a year ago when Roy Halladay was on the trade market. As much as they wanted to keep him, a pitcher like Halladay is always on the Yankees shopping list. If he could have been had for a then 19-year-old minor leaguer then so be it. Things didn’t work out and the Yankees weren’t exactly upset to hold on to their prospect.
Then came this past July trade deadline. Cliff Lee was being shopped by the Seattle Mariners. The Yankees had a strong team, but worried about their rotation behind CC Sabathia and Andy Pettitte. A.J. Burnett was in the middle of breaking down and Javier Vazquez was already broken. The other member of the rotation, Phil Hughes, was a huge question mark because of an undefined innings limit.
The Yankees were aggressive in their bidding for Lee and at a certain point it appeared that Montero was a goner as things looked serious. That trade fell through as ultimately the Mariners liked Texas’ package surrounding Justin Smoak slightly more.
Even after those trades fell through and the Yankees still had Montero it wasn’t a given that he would be the 2011 starting catcher.
Montero’s defensive abilities were always in question. As a young catcher there were questions about his size and how hard it would be for him to stick behind the plate. Even as he got older he was unable to quite critics who said he would never make it behind the plate.
Because of this questions about the Yankees trading him were still around and probably will continue to stick around all this winter. Does he really have a solid position? He seems to be too slow to play in the outfield and the Yankees were set at both first and third, two other possible positions for him.
With those defensive questions in mind there was some thought that the Yankees would have him repeat triple-A again in 2011. After all, he is still just 20, he’ll be 21 this winter, another year in the minor leagues wouldn’t kill him and it would have given the Yankees another year to keep his contract costs down.
The problem with this is that Jorge Posada is old and getting older. His defensive abilities seemed gone in 2009 and were completely shot in 2010. On top of that the once sturdy catcher has been more injury prone as he gets older. He needs to be in the DH spot where he can stay healthy and continue to contribute consistently to the offense.
Besides that there is the matter of another catching prospect Austin Romine. Romine is a highly regarded catching prospect and while his bat is not as tantalizing as Montero’s he still has potential to be a special player.
He played a full season as the catcher in double-A and despite a late season slump, he is ready for the jump to triple-A. If Montero had stayed in the minors it would have only stunted Romine’s development and to a lesser extent those behind him.
Speaking of the catchers behind Romine, many of those players have a decent amount of upside as well. There is J.R. Murphy, Kyle Higashioka, and Gary Sanchez. Those three players might be far away, but they’ll be close to the Bronx in no time.
The Yankees need to give Montero a shot at the major leagues and Romine after him rather quickly so that they know what they have in these players. By doing that they’ll have a better idea of what their plans should be with these other catching prospects.
It sometimes takes a while to get a good look at a player to properly judge them. If Montero spends 2011 in triple-A that’ll make it hard to give him, Romine, and the other players following a fair look. This way they’ll have a better chance at keeping the ones that will truly have an impact in the Bronx and dealing the others to fill other holes in the big league roster without getting burned in the end.
This seems like obvious stuff, but the Yankees nearly dealt Montero a few times and I for one am glad that they’ve held on to him. Now is his time as well, keeping him in the minor leagues any longer would not only hold him back, but it would hurt the Yankees lineup as well, and possibly stunt the development of those behind him.
The Yankees are making the right choice going with Montero in 2011.