Posts Tagged ‘Jesus Montero’

For the last nine seasons, David Ortiz has been one of the most prolific hitters in baseball and the rock of the Boston Red Sox’ lineup. However, there hasn’t been much love for Big Papi on the free agent market. According to recent reports, the DH’s options seem limited to accepting arbitration or signing a discounted two-year deal with the Red Sox. If that really is the case, the Yankees should make him an offer he can’t refuse.

Brian Cashman has correctly identified pitching as the Yankees’ top priority. However, in the absence of attractive starting pitching on the market (at least not at a reasonable price), maybe that isn’t the best approach? After all, an alternative to preventing runs is scoring them, and adding Ortiz would certainly help the Yankees do just that.

With the exception of Don Baylor from 1983 to 1986, the Yankees have rarely had a full-time DH. Jorge Posada’s 90 games as a DH last year is surpassed by only seven other Yankees and ranks as the third highest total since 1991. So, if the team signed Ortiz, it would represent a philosophical reversal, especially for Joe Girardi, who has grown fond of using the DH as a “half day off” for his aging veterans.

Ironically, the man most likely to fill the DH slot for the Yankees in 2012 is 22-year old Jesus Montero. The most sensible objection to signing Ortiz is the negative impact it would have Montero’s playing time, but even that could be spun into a positive. Instead of settling on the rookie as a DH, the presence of Ortiz could force the Yankees to develop him more as a catcher, which, in the long run, would pay greater dividends.


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(The following was originally published at SB*Nation’s Pinstripe Alley)

Pitching, pitching, and more pitching. That has become Brian Cashman’s mantra when addressing questions about his offseason plans. But should that be his only focus?

As we enter the process this winter, I don’t anticipate a bat being of need at all. Offense is not an issue that we’ll be focusing on. It will be the pitching. I feel our offense is very, very strong. – Brian Cashman, quoted by Bloomberg, November 2, 2011

Last year, the Yankees offense was very strong in terms of run production. In fact, it was historic when compared to the league average. However, a couple of warning signs are evident (albeit relatively minor) when you take a look under the hood.  As illustrated in the chart below, at the same time the Yankees’ average run total per game spiked, the underlying performance of the offense, as measured by OPS+, dropped to its second lowest level since 2001. Also, although the lineup’s 2011 wRC+ of 113 was healthier than last year’s, it was still off recent highs in 2007 and 2009. Until 2010, the Yankees’ relative run production had an almost perfect correlation to weighted Runs Created and adjusted OPS (r2 of .97 and .93, respectively), so unless the divergence experienced over the past two years is sustainable because of an underlying dynamic (improved base running and lots of homeruns?), Cashman should at least be mindful about the possibility of these lines converging in 2012.

Yankees Relative Offensive Performance, 1996-2011

Note: R/G vs. Lg is the Yankees’ R/G divided by the league average.
Source: fangraphs.com, baseball-reference.com, proprietary calculations

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Jesus Montero’s major league debut on September 1 was one of the most anticipated arrivals in recent Yankees’ history. So much had been written and said about the 21-year old catcher that his promotion at the beginning of the month almost felt like a second coming. What’s more, the early returns have seemed to justify the heightened expectations. Although Montero may not be a “savior”, with an impressive line of .353/.450/.706 in 20 big league plate appearances, he could be on his way to becoming the most impactful September call-up in recent memory.

Montero's promotion served as the symbolic end to Posada's Yankee career.

Montero’s ascension to a semi-regular role all but marks the end of Jorge Posada’s time in pinstripes. Although the veteran is likely to crack the lineup a few more times before the month runs out, it’s increasingly looking as if he won’t be a part of the post season roster. If so, Posada’s Yankees career will end just as it started: as a cheerleader on the bench during October.

When the Yankees signed Montero as a 16-year old in 2006, Posada was still an All Star catcher. In fact, in 2007, he had the best season of his career. Nonetheless, when Posada was given a four-year extension after that successful campaign, the overwhelming expectation was the new contract would lead right into the Montero era. As things turned out, when the kid was promoted to replace the veteran, it was as a DH, not a catcher, but still, the transition’s symbolism is clear.

The rapidly approaching end to Posada’s pinstripe tenure has been mostly overshadowed by the early brilliance of Montero’s burgeoning big league career. Although excitement about the “next best thing” is certainly justified, Yankees’ fan shouldn’t be quick to cast aside Posada without first realizing they are saying goodbye to a potential Hall of Famer.

Although some might dispute the notion of Posada as Cooperstown worthy, his credentials are compelling. Unfortunately for the Yankees’ backstop, his career happened to coincide with arguably the greatest offensive (Mike Piazza) and defensive (Ivan Rodriguez) catchers to ever play the game, so it’s easy to see why he is sometimes overlooked in Hall-related discussions. Despite these formidable contemporaries, however, Posada’s statistical record still stands out.


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Over at Bronx Banter, I took a look back at the history of Yankees’ September call-ups, but because Jesus Montero’s arrival has been so widely anticipated, it’s probably more apt to consider his first game along side every pinstripe debut, not just the ones that have occurred during the season’s last month.

Is a new era dawning with the promotion of Jesus Montero (Photo: Getty Images)?

When Montero sees his first pitch in the major leagues, he will become the 275th position player since 1919 to debut as a Yankee. Included on that list are all of the Yankees’ home grown standouts, ranging from past legends like Lou Gehrig, Joe DiMaggio, and Mickey Mantle to modern stars like Derek Jeter, Jorge Posada, and Robinson Cano. However, names like Joe Lucey, Chicken Hawks, Tom Shopay, and Mike Figga are just as prevalent. Obviously, the Yankees hope Montero will fall more in line with the former group.

Although all eyes will be on Montero in his debut, it’s worth noting that first impressions mean little when it comes to projecting long-term contributions. For every Joe DiMaggio who breaks in with three hits, there is a Charlie Silvera who does the same. Similarly, just because a rookie takes a collar in his first game doesn’t mean he will be overmatched. Although that may have been the case for a player like Benny Bengough, it certainly didn’t apply to Derek Jeter.

In honor of Montero’s much heralded arrival, listed below are the most triumphant and deflating first games played by a Yankee making his major league debut.

Best/Worst Debuts Ranked by Hits, Since 1919

Player Date Opp PA R H TB RBI BB
Mike Pagliarulo 7/7/1984 MIN 5 2 3 5 1 0
Charlie Silvera 9/29/1948 PHA 4 0 3 5 0 0
Hank Bauer 9/6/1948 PHA 5 1 3 3 1 0
Ralph Houk 4/26/1947 WSH 4 0 3 4 0 1
Joe DiMaggio 5/3/1936 SLB 6 3 3 5 1 0
Dixie Walker 4/28/1931 WSH 7 1 3 5 1 0
Player Date Opp AB R H TB RBI BB
Derek Jeter 5/29/1995 SEA 5 0 0 0 0 0
J.T. Snow 9/20/1992 KCR 5 0 0 0 0 0
Randy Velarde 8/20/1987 SEA 5 0 0 0 0 0
Frankie Crosetti 4/12/1932 PHA 5 0 0 0 0 0
Benny Bengough 5/18/1923 SLB 5 0 0 0 0 0

Source: baseball-reference.com

Top-/Bottom-Five Debuts Ranked by WPA, Since 1919

Player Date Opp PA WPA
Derek Jeter 5/29/1995 SEA 5 -0.231
Jay Buhner 9/11/1987 TOR 4 -0.224
Mickey Klutts 7/7/1976 KCR 3 -0.185
Roger Holt 10/4/1980 DET 5 -0.166
J.T. Snow 9/20/1992 KCR 5 -0.148
Player Date Opp PA WPA
Jim Leyritz 6/8/1990 BAL 1 0.322
Steve Balboni 4/22/1981 DET 3 0.237
Billy Martin 4/18/1950 BOS 2 0.206
Dell Alston 5/17/1977 OAK 1 0.172
Thurman Munson 8/8/1969 OAK 4 0.162

Source: baseball-reference.com

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(In addition to appearing at The Captain’s Blog, this post is also being syndicated at TheYankeeAnalysts.)

One of the most exciting young players in the game today is Jose Tabata. However, because he plays in the relative obscurity of Pittsburgh, it’s likely that more than a few casual fans don’t even know his name.

As an 18-year old, Tabata starred for the Tampa Yankees in the Florida State League.

Over the first two weeks of the season, Tabata has displayed an athletic blend of power and speed, giving Pittsburgh two of the most promising young outfielders in the game. Although fellow wunderkind Andrew McCutchen has deservingly garnered much of the spotlight to date, if the Pirates’ left fielder can maintain his steady improvement, he’ll quickly become a household name as well.

Tabata may not be well known around the league, but many Yankee fans are already very familiar with the young outfielder, who is playing in his seventh professional season. In fact, to those who have been following his career since he was signed by the Yankees in 2005 as a 16-year old out of Anzoategui, Venezuela, Tabata probably seems like a grizzled veteran. Unfortunately, familiarity can often breed contempt, and that perception is likely what prevented him from breaking into the big leagues wearing pinstripes.

The Emergence of Jose Tabata

2010 21 441 61 4 35 19 0.299 0.346 0.400 102
2011 22 70 13 3 4 8 0.310 0.420 0.517 151

Source: Baseball-reference.com

Immediately upon signing, Tabata quickly established himself as one of the Yankees’ top prospects. After only one year in the organization, the then 17-year old outfielder joined Phil Hughes as an untouchable, but that didn’t stop most teams from asking for him in trade proposals. In story after story, Tabata’s name was floated in various rumored deals, but each time, the Yankees held their ground. It was even reported that Brian Cashman would not part with Tabata in the Johan Santana deal, which illustrated the Yankees’ high regard for the outfielder. However, all that changed in 2008.

Still only 19 years old, Tabata began to show signs of immaturity, which one might expect from a young kid who was thrown into an adult world at such an early age. As a result, not only did he struggle mightily at double-A Trenton, but his behavior also started to raise eyebrows. In one incident, Tabata was suspended for three games after he abruptly left the stadium following a bad game. Then, a few weeks later, the outfielder was disciplined for engaging in a shouting match with a teammate.  In addition to his struggles and behavioral issues, Tabata also had to battle a serious hamstring injury, so, in just about every regard, 2008 was a season of discontent. Even worse, it left the impression that Tabata might be a malcontent. Amid whispers about his mental makeup, Tabata’s star, which had been on the ascendant, was now quickly dimming.

The Yankees eventually cut the cord with Tabata before the trade deadline in 2008. Desperately in need of another bat as well as a lefty reliever, the team sent a package of prospects including Tabata to Pittsburghfor Xavier Nady and Damaso Marte. Only months earlier, it would have been unthinkable to trade Tabata for anything less than a star player, but in the intervening months, the Yankees’ opinion of the young prospect had clearly changed.

Those who liked the Yankees’ acquisition of Xavier Nady and Damaso Marte essentially expressed the view that the Yanks addressed two areas of extreme need – a righty-hitting corner outfield bat and a top lefty reliever – without surrendering a substantial package. An NL scout who covers the Yankees went as far as to say, “I don’t think the Yankees gave up anything.” –Joel Sherman, New York Post, July 27, 2008

After the deal was consummated, “anonymous sources” used the opportunity to pile on Tabata. A New York Post headline blared, “Go ‘Way, Jose – Experts Fear Tabata’s More Fool Than Jewel”. When the outfielder began the 2009 season recounting a tale about how his 43-year old wife had concealed an extensive criminal history and presented an abducted child as their own, it seemed as if the Yankees had made the right decision in parting ways with the troubled teen. Soon thereafter, however, Tabata once again began to let his talent do the talking. Now, everyone is listening to the loud sounds coming off his bat instead of the quiet whispers from behind his back.

If Tabata continues to fulfill his promise, the 2008 trade that sent him to Pittsburgh could go down as one of the most lopsided in Yankees’ history. Not only did the Bronx Bombers wind up missing the playoffs in 2008, but both Nady and Marte, whom the Yankees resigned to an extension, spent more time on the DL than the field. The only redeeming value for the Yankees was Marte’s dominant performance in the 2009 post season, but even that contribution pales in comparison to the potential that lies ahead for Tabata.

Like Tabata, Jesus Montero was signed by the Yankees as a 16-year old out of Venezuela.

The Yankees have a pretty good track record when it comes to trading away prospects. With all the deals they have made for established veterans, very few youngsters have come back to haunt the team. Lately, however, that perception seems to be changing. Along with Tabata, players like Austin Jackson, Mark Melancon and Ian Kennedy have had a positive impact in the majors, but the Pirates’ left fielder is the one who seems poised to be a major source of regret. Why? Because the Yankees never gave up on Tabata’s talent. Instead, it seems as if their willingness to part with the young outfielder was the result of concerns about his “makeup”.

An important lesson can be learned from the Yankees’ relationship with Tabata. When drafting adolescent talent, there has to be an allowance for emotional growing pains. Just because a teenager has big league talent doesn’t mean he has big league maturity. It’s too late for Tabata, but the Yankees can apply that lesson to another young prospect: Jesus Montero.

Like Tabata, the Yankees’ signed Montero as a 16-year old out of Venezuela. Continuing the parallel, Montero quickly emerged as the team’s top prospect, but then encountered struggles and behavioral issues around the age of 20. The circle was almost completed when the Yankees agreed to send the young catcher to the Mariners in a trade for Cliff Lee. Fortunately for the Yankees, however, the Mariners’ decision to back out of the deal granted them a reprieve from repeating the same mistake (which, admittedly, in this case would have at least netted a prime talent).

It remains to be seen whether Montero will develop into a star, but if the Yankees opt against giving him a chance, one can only hope that decision will be based on talent alone. After Montero’s struggles in spring training, whispers about flaws in his mental approach began to resurface, leading some to believe that the Yankees had missed their best chance to trade the young catcher. Hopefully. Brian Cashman doesn’t feel the same way.  The Yankees already made that mistake with Tabata. If it happens a second time, shame on them.

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Update: Minutes after this post was published, Law also released his top-100 prospect rankings. Angels’ outfield prospect Mike Trout topped the list, just ahead of 2010 draft wunderkind Bryce Harper and the Phillies’ Domonic Brown.

As for the Yankees, Jesus Montero ranked highest on the list at number four. According to Law, Montero’s ability to hit is without question (he invoked Frank Thomas as a comparison), but concerns about his defense as well as the durability of catchers his size remain. Also appearing in the top-100 were four other Yankees, most notably Manny Banuelos, who not only ranked 12th overall, but also fourth among pitchers. Despite his young age, Law stated that his advanced physical development means Banuelos isn’t far from helping the big league club. Perhaps, he will be the Yankees mystery fifth starter by midseason?

Also ranked in the top 100 were Gary Sanchez (68), Dellin Betances (73) and Andrew Brackman (88), while Austin Romine just missed the cut. Rounding out Law’s list of the Yankees’ top-10 prospects were Graham Stoneburner, Slade Heathcott, Hector Noesi and Adam Warren.

Keith Law’s latest MLB organization rankings have been posted at ESPN.com, and the Yankees find themselves inside the top-10. Law singled out the team’s catching depth, which includes Jesus Montero, Gary Sanchez and Austine Romine. Law was also impressed with the development of Dellin Betances and Andrew Brackman, both of whom made significant strides in their recovery from injury. Also mentioned were Manny Banuelos as well as a mystery player selected toward the end of last year’s draft. On Friday, Law intends to publish a profile on that player, so all readers with an ESPN insider account should mark it on their calendars.

Most Yankees fans are familiar with Jesus Montero, but fellow catching prospect Gary Sanchez is not that far behind.

Law’s high opinion of the Yankees’ farm system echoed Jonathan Mayo’s prospect rankings, which were unveiled at MLB.com on Tuesday.  The Yankees placed three prospects –Montero (9), Sanchez (32) and Banuelos (35) – on Mayo’s list of the game’s top-50 prospects, while Betances just missed the cut at 53. Like Law, Mayo also rated the Royals (six prospects) and Rays (four prospects) highly. On the other end of the spectrum, the Mets, Marlins, Brewers and A’s were the only four teams not represented.

Law’s and Mayo’s findings validate Brian Cashman’s strategy of paying almost as much attention to the minors as the major league roster. Even as the Yankees have been able to maintain a championship caliber team, Cashman has simultaneously gone about rebuilding and then fortifying the team’s farm system, which is why the general manager was so reticent to surrender a first round draft pick with the signing of Rafael Soriano. The strength of the farm also provides insight into why Cashman has been so patient this offseason. As Steve S. at TYU noted in his excellent recap of Cashman’s WFAN breakfast chat, the Yankees’ general manager believes Banuelos and Betances both have “Phil Hughes or better ceilings”, and all levels of the minors will feature legitimate prospects in their respective rotations. Cashman even relayed Gene Michael’s belief that David Phelps and Adam Warren could be better than Ivan Nova.

Although Mayo’s list is available in its entirety at MLB, Law’s work (which is probably the most exhaustive and informative in the field) remains behind ESPN’s pay wall. So, listed below is a brief and select summary of his conclusions.


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