Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Playing First Base for the Mariners...Jesus Montero!

As the Yankees struggle with their starting rotation, it would be really nice to have Michael Pineda out there on the mound right now, wouldn’t it? And to add insult to that injury, the guy Brian Cashman traded for him may be starting to come into his own.

Montero as a Yankee:
Oh, what might have been!

Seattle Mariner Jesus Montero has been one of the league’s top hitters against left-handed pitching all season, but near last against righties. That may be changing, however. A week ago Montero had 46 hits against righties, and now he has 58, including two home runs off Jered Weaver last Sunday in Anaheim.

Montero’s future, however, may not be behind the plate. While he has been making some progress as a defensive catcher, the Mariners’ long-range plan is for 2012 top draft pick Mike Zunino (#3 overall) to take over that position. Zunino, winner of numerous collegiate player of the year awards at the University of Florida, was just promoted to AA Jackson (Southern League)after a few weeks at Class A Everett (WA, Northwest League), where he batted .373 in 29 games with nine doubles, 10 home runs, 35 RBI, a .474 on- base percentage and .736 slugging percentage for a 1.210 OPS. At Jackson, Zunino will step way up in competition and can start forging bonds with top Mariner pitching prospects Tijuan Walker and James Paxton. Zunino, son of a major league scout, is being touted as having the defensive, game-management and leadership skills of true catching greats such as Thurman Munson and Joe Girardi.

The Mariners see Montero primarily as a DH, where they have floundered since Edgar Martinez retired in 2005. But he will also get a look at first base, probably this season. Justin Smoak, centerpiece of the Mariners' swap of Cliff Lee to Texas in 2009 (spurning the Yankees' offer of Montero!), was heralded as the second coming of Mark Texeira when he arrived, but so far he has been a bust from both sides of the plate. In fact, the same night they traded Ichiro to the Yankees, the Mariners sent Smoak back to AAA Tacoma to get his head and his swing together. Unfortunately, they then had to recall him this week (batting .246 with no home runs) when replacement Mike Carp went on the DL (for the third time this season). So first base for the Mariners is looking pretty unsettled.

While Montero is certainly no gazelle (one sports talk host has dubbed Montero “El Gallepago” for his turtle-like speed on the basepaths), the Mariners might as well see if he can block anything at first base. If he doesn't embarrass himself, it will provide more flexibility for Montero as well as for the team.

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