At first glance, it’s easy to see the potential in Jesus Montero.
The Seattle Mariners’ prized acquisition in an offseason trade with the New York Yankees is an imposing presence. He’s a catcher and designated hitter listed at 6-foot-3, 235 pounds, and the ball jumps off his bat with a crack audible across the Mariners’ spring training facility.
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Montero, 22, went 20 for 61 (.328) in 18 games with the Yankees after a September call-up last season. He hit four home runs and four doubles. When the Mariners – in need of something to jolt their offense after finishing last in the majors in runs (556) and team batting average (.233) – went in search of offense combined with youth and promise, Montero was their target.
Montero looks to be slotted in the cleanup or fifth spot in the Mariners’ batting order, at DH to start. The team hopes to develop him as a catcher, with veteran Miguel Olivo providing some power and handling the pitching staff while Montero works on his defense and game-calling.
Montero has heard the criticism about him being a liability behind the plate but pays it little mind. He said he’d like to be in the starting lineup as a catcher at some point.
”I do, but I have a lot in front of me. My contract’s only for a year, but I’m going to do everything I can this year to be there by midseason if not before,” Montero said. ”I just think about doing my work and trying to prove that I can catch.”
Montero has been catching bullpen sessions daily and learning more about the pitching staff he’s working with. His hitting draws more attention, however.
”I just have to follow my routine and that will help me the most,” Montero said. ”I don’t think I have any one detail that the coaches have talked to me about.”
Fans looking for Montero, if they’ve never seen him before, might confuse him for a minor-league prospect given that he wears an odd number for a front-line player: 63.
”It was the number the Yankees gave me in the big leagues,” Montero said. ”I hit my first home wearing that number and I plan to stay with it.”
Montero flourished in the Yankees organization, which he signed with as a non-drafted free agent in 2006.
Montero finds his situation more relaxed with the Mariners, as opposed to the high visibility of the Yankees. He’s set to start at catcher in Friday’s intrasquad game, with the plan being to get him regular at-bats all season long either at catcher or as a DH.
”We feel like he’s very capable of being an everyday catcher,” Mariners manager Eric Wedge said. ”We’re fortunate now with Miguel Olivo, we don’t need him to be an everyday catcher this year. We’ve got plenty of time to take it slow with him and help him continue to work towards that.”
Notes: Pitchers will likely get an inning or so of work, and position players who will start Friday’s intrasquad game include 3B Chone Figgins, 2B Dustin Ackley, 1B Justin Smoak, C Olivo and normal SS Brendan Ryan at DH. OF Franklin Gutierrez is expected to play in Sunday’s intrasquad game, as he is being eased along. Figgins, who has played primarily second base and third base for Seattle, got some work at shortstop Thursday and will see time there all spring, Wedge said.