Montero’s future with M’s in question

Jesus Montero’s demotion to Triple-A has come with a position switch — and a muddled future with the Seattle Mariners.

Montero, who as a Yankees prospect was compared to Miguel Cabrera, was sent down this week after hitting just .208 in 29 games this season. Observers noticed Montero playing with very limited confidence as a result of the prolonged offensive malaise. Amid expectations that he would become an elite power hitter, Montero has a substandard .699 OPS in more than 700 major league plate appearances.

Montero, 23, has not played an inning in the majors at a position other than catcher (or designated hitter). But he will play primarily first base at Tacoma, Mariners general manager Jack Zduriencik said.

The move is likely permanent — at least as long as Montero remains with the Mariners — because Tacoma teammate Mike Zunino is viewed as the team’s catcher of the future.

Zduriencik did say Montero is likely to catch “a couple times a week” and serve as the Rainiers’ designated hitter occasionally.

“Our goal was to help to get him back on track offensively and give him some versatility defensively playing multiple positions,” Zduriencik said in an email to FOXSports.com when asked about the decision. “He just turned 23 this winter. (The) move is to give him an opportunity to step back and regain his game.

“We all feel that he has certain offensive gifts that are very desirable, as he certainly has shown stints of that here in Seattle. We all feel that at present this is his best interest for now and for the future.”

Montero is in a very unfavorable position: He has struggled to hit major league pitching and must now shift to two positions (first base and DH) at which a higher level of offensive production is expected. Montero needs to show considerable improvement if and when he returns to the Mariners this year in order to remain part of the team’s long-term plans.

As dire as the circumstances seem for Montero, he should have a place on the team in 2014 as long as he can hit while playing first base or DH. Current first baseman Justin Smoak has fallen short of his expectations. The other players Seattle has used at DH this year — Kendrys Morales, Raul Ibañez and Mike Morse — will be free agents after this season.

Still, for Montero this marks a precipitous fall from his status as one of the most heralded hitting prospects in baseball. When the Yankees dealt Montero to the Mariners before last year, New York general manager Brian Cashman told reporters he “may very well be the best player I’ve ever traded.”

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