Montero working hard to catch on
Yankees prospect makes early impact in Futures Game
ST. LOUIS -- It did not go unnoticed when Francisco Cervelli earned his promotion to the Yankees this year, seizing it and running with it and making his bosses think twice about sending him back down to the Minors. There, in an organization stocked with some surprisingly talented chips, Jesus Montero took note.
Montero is not only a fellow Venezuelan and Yankee, he is a fellow catcher. And as Jorge Posada's reign in the Bronx slowly winds to an end, Montero knows that the big league catching job will soon be up for grabs -- and that he, like Cervelli, will have a chance to seize it.
"He worked hard like I work hard, and he got there," Montero said. "I'm working hard to be there like him."
Montero wasted little time during Sunday's XM All-Star Futures Game at Busch Stadium, hustling down the line in the first inning to turn a potential inning-ending double play into a run-scoring fielder's choice. Catching for the World Team, Montero -- at just 19 years of age -- was making his second straight Futures Game appearance and his first career start.
It was an obvious decision, considering the .287 batting average and five home runs he has hit in 29 games at Double-A Trenton this season -- as one of the youngest players in the league. Earning a promotion after hitting .356 in 48 games at Class A Tampa, Montero has thrived since Baseball America ranked him the Yankees' second-best prospect this past winter.
That, of course, was an advertisement not without merit. Montero hit .326 with 17 home runs last year in his first full professional season -- and all of it as an 18-year-old in the pitcher-friendly Sally League.
But Montero has also heard the whispers. A shell of the defensive catcher that Cervelli is, the bigger and more powerful Montero may one day need to switch positions to stick in the Majors. His footwork needs improvement, as do his fundamentals behind the plate. And his batting abilities are strong enough that the Yankees could easily consider converting him to the more offensive-minded first base position, if necessary.
But Montero does not want to switch positions any more than the Yankees want to move him.
"I want to be a catcher," he said. "I love to catch. I like to be a catcher. I like to be in the middle of the game. I mean, it's my position. I want to play my position."
What Montero does have is an offensive aptitude far above that of Cervelli, who would seem to be more of a future Major League backup. Montero projects as a starter -- the kind of offensive talent that does not often surface in the Minor Leagues. And if he can stick at catcher, a traditionally weak offensive position, he could become a lineup fixture and perennial All-Star in the mold of Posada.
He has that type of talent.
And he has seen that the Yankees, recently more likely to shop their top prospects around baseball than to use them in New York, have begun to change their philosophy. That the Yankees eagerly plugged Cervelli in their lineup this season after backup catcher Jose Molina landed on the disabled list was a testament to their willingness to build from within.
Montero took the hint and understands the implications: He, too, has a prime opportunity to make an impact on the organization -- and soon.
"That makes me work harder every single day," Montero said. "One day they're going to call me up, and I'm going to win. I've been working so hard to make the big leagues."
Anthony DiComo is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.