The One Part I Don’t Understand

Jeff Sullivan · May 23, 2013 at 7:32 pm · Filed Under Mariners 

Absolutely, Jesus Montero has been disappointing. He’s had his flashes, but he hasn’t developed, and he isn’t making visible progress. He hasn’t been much to speak of — at least fondly — behind the plate, and it makes sense that Montero’s defensive efforts might’ve been hampering the offense. I’m on board with sending Montero to Tacoma, to work on things against inferior competition. I’m on board with knocking Montero away from catching, to free up additional concentration and practice time. I would’ve preferred that things never get here, but Montero wouldn’t be the first guy to start hitting after abandoning the backstop position. He’s 23, and 14 months ago he was one of the most highly thought of young hitters on the planet.

It’s just:

Montero has never played first base in the majors or in the minors. Not in a game, anyway, so it’s basically entirely unfamiliar. Montero has some concept of what first base is — he’s reached it sometimes — but, defensively, it’ll be a new thing. And though first base is the easiest defensive position on the field, that doesn’t mean it’s easy. That means it’s being compared to shortstop and center and catcher. Everything’s relative, and learning first base takes work if you want to not suck at it.

So. If the reason behind sending Montero to Tacoma is to work on his bat while stripping away the defensive stuff, what’s the sense in introducing new defensive stuff? If the belief is that Montero has struggled to develop offensively because he’s been putting a lot of effort into his defense, why have him learn new defense? Why right away?

Maybe Montero won’t actually work that much on defense. Maybe it’ll be an occasional thing, and we’ll have to let this part play out. There’s no need to overreact before we know the facts, and maybe the team just wants for Montero to not completely forget what it’s like to play the field. After all, it’d be good if Montero became a decent first baseman down the line. But it seems to me the priority should be getting the bat going, if that’s still possible. Get the bat going, and then, after the instruction takes, ease Montero gently back into defense. Montero’s supposed to be a bat-first player. The bat has gone missing. Focus on the bat.

I don’t want to criticize the Mariners for something they might not do, and presumably they’ve thought this through and they have a plan. I’m sure they want for Montero’s bat to develop even more than I do, because I don’t have anything personally invested in this. I won’t lose my job if the Mariners suck. It’s just going to be interesting to see how this plays out. I should hope that Montero doesn’t spend too much time learning a new defensive position right away. I should hope that stuff doesn’t impair his ability to get better at the plate. Nobody ever looked at Jesus Montero and pictured a future Gold Glover. They pictured a middle-of-the-order slugger, and if it’s the team’s belief he hasn’t made progress in part because of defensive concerns, I don’t really get introducing new defensive concerns. Let him hit first. At least let him try.


27 Responses to “The One Part I Don’t Understand”

  1. Snuffy on May 23rd, 2013 7:47 pm

    Those who see schadenfreude as the ultimate in humor will look forward to Montero at 1b.

  2. Westside guy on May 23rd, 2013 7:55 pm

    “I don’t want to criticize the Mariners for something they might not do, and presumably they’ve thought this through and they have a plan.”

    You have WAY more faith in the level of thought currently in this organization than I do. These are the same guys who thought bringing in a trio of 1B/DH types would make for a splendid outfield and that Josh Hamilton was the only significant free agent worth pursuing.

  3. PackBob on May 23rd, 2013 8:40 pm

    Yeah, it may be as simple as wanting to have options to get his bat in the line-up and go over the basics so he doesn’t feel lost. Also, sliding into a DH-only, no fielding position might be hard on a young player that’s used to taking the field. Get him on the field once in a while to feel more comfortable.

    If the bat is the thing, by all means concentrate on the hitting. But it may even be a good thing for Montero to have something else to do. Too much focus can be bad sometimes as well.

  4. MrZDevotee on May 23rd, 2013 10:31 pm

    I wouldn’t be surprised if the REALITY is that they asked Woodward to stay so he could simply assess whether it’s POSSIBLE to make Montero into a passable 1B, or to abandon all hope of a fielding position in his future.

    And it’s helpful to have a DH know a position to play in a pinch. If they’re abandoning ALL hope of catcher, it makes a little sense to teach him something else… if only while in Tacoma. It’ll give him more opportunities to hit, too, presumably, if say Morse, or Ibanez, or Morales, or Guty get injured and need a rehab stint to get their timing back (which is not only possible, but probable).

  5. Adam S on May 23rd, 2013 10:36 pm

    Replacement level offense is much higher at DH than 1B, right? If he can become a league average 1B defensively vs. a league average DH defensive :), that’s worth a win per year.

    Plus a full-time DH has some negative value on the team because of a lack of flexibility. I suspect they’re trying to retain some of the value they thought he had when they got him.

  6. The_Waco_Kid on May 23rd, 2013 11:16 pm

    So, I have to agree with Jeff. It’d be good for Montero to learn 1B, but having him learn 1B defeats the purpose of avoiding the distraction of defense. The only reasons I can think of are:
    (A) they think it’s way easier to learn 1B and hit MiLB pitching than learn to catch and hit MLB pitching
    (B) they’re sure he can’t catch, but they’re not sure he can’t play 1B

    But this means they should make a quick call on whether he has hope as 1B. Don’t make the same mistake of taking a year to figure out he can’t play a position.

  7. ck on May 24th, 2013 12:11 am

    Montero should try to learn First Base, if possible, because Kendrys Morales will be gone before the trade deadline ( free agent Boras client ) and a back-up DH / 1b will be Montero’s ticket back to the bigs…if he can hit (big if)

  8. MacMariner on May 24th, 2013 1:04 am

    After listening to the Jack Z interview on 710 last night I have completely given up hope. He just sounds so completely delusional about the situation and the rotten roster he has put together.

    Our amateur scouting dept might be one of the best in the game but the decisions and talent identification on the pro scouting side has been abysmal.

    This team is just a hot mess. We have no starting pitching anywhere close to helping the ML team and outside of Seager and Saunders pretty much nothing to build an offense around and a real lack of impact bats in the minors.

    RF, LF, C, SS, 2B, 1B, DH and SP all need to be replaced or upgraded at the end of the year. What is the fucking plan here?

    Yes, teach Montero to be a dreadful 1B and give him something else to detract from his hitting. Genius.

  9. GLS on May 24th, 2013 2:26 am

    I think I agree with Jeff on this one. While I’m not a big fan of the specialized DH, it would seem to make more sense to just have him work on his hitting, for now anyway. Ultimately, if he meets his potential and becomes that impact bat, then you start looking for options to get him on the field every now and again.

    Honestly though, this was the problem I had with the trade from the beginning. I remember reading about Montero years ago and the scoop back then was that he wouldn’t catch in the majors, that Austin Romine was the catcher of the future. So where do you play him? It would be one thing if you could convert him to an outfielder, but that’s obviously not an option. So, his upside would seem to be below-average defensive first baseman or full-time DH, and those options are really only okay if he becomes an elite hitter.

  10. GLS on May 24th, 2013 2:32 am

    I was listening to Keith Law on the radio today. He suggested that given the amount of trouble hitters seems to have at the ML level with the Mariners, that there could be an instructional issue. But this has been going on for a while really, so it can’t just be the hitting coach.

  11. SeattleSlew on May 24th, 2013 3:53 am

    I’m on board with Jeff on this one. I always thought it was really unfair to ask Montero to play catcher everyday. Very few catchers have hit and played everyday when they are 23 years old. It was very unlikely that he would do it. If they wanted to introduce a new defensive position they should’ve done it when he first came in.

    It seems that the M’s have a history of drafting or acquiring young catchers in the first round, (Terry Bell, Bill McGuire, Jason Varitek, Ryan Christianson, Jeff Clement, Steve Baron, Zunino).

    Now I’m not saying they shouldn’t invest in the catching position but if the goal is to develop hitters, then whats the point of taking a chance on a catcher in the first round again and again? Of course once you send a player up and down for instruction like that, after a couple years that player is not going to want to be with your organization.

    Remember? Raul Ibanez experimented with catching at one point in his young career. Then he started playing 1B and LF, and he was able to focus on his hitting.

  12. Westside guy on May 24th, 2013 6:57 am

    I’m no longer a an of Jack Zduriencik; but I don’t believe you should put too much stock on anything he says during a radio interview. It’s not his job to share his true thoughts about the team or its players with the general public (or other GMs and potential trade partners).

  13. ChrisFB on May 24th, 2013 7:18 am

    What’s to wonder about? Multiple folks in the blogosphere – Cameron definitely included and at the forefront – have said from day zero that Montero isn’t and shouldn’t be a catcher, that he’s fundamentally unteachable at that position, etc. etc. This is just a logical time and place to call time-of-death on a catching experiment for Montero and try to get value out of him otherwise.

    The much bigger concern is having enough faith in the M’s coaching staffs at the minor and major league level to be able to fix up anyone. Oh goody, another free swinger with power in Tacoma. I want to have more faith that they can fix him than I do. If this summer gets really hot I’ll take in a Rainiers game and let the windmills in the lineup cool me off. (Montero, Peguero, unfortunately Zunino too it seems lately…)

  14. LongDistance on May 24th, 2013 7:31 am

    I saw Edgar play 1st base. He didn’t look comfortable there, but he knew where to put his feet. If there’s any chance of giving Montero a defensive facet… somewhere… is miles ahead of DH-only. Montero didn’t get here with zero defensive skills… he’s just being killed at the major league level.

    This is the absolute best thing they can do with him.

    The part I don’t understand, is why they tried to groom Montero, in-situ, in one of the most difficult and key defensive positions in the first place…

  15. Sowulo on May 24th, 2013 8:48 am

    Learning 1b is quite simple for anyone who has any understanding of the game at all. Being athletic enough to play it very well is an entirely different matter. Unlike catching, which has tons of responsibility involving controlling another teams running game; framing pitches to improve calls from umpires; calling a good game; knowing all the tendencies of the entire pitching staff and being able to spot variations in each pitcher’s delivery; knowing all the tendencies of every hitter on every opposing team…..learning the basics of 1B is not complicated enough to distract from one’s offensive development. Heck, even Bone managed to survive a few games at 1B and I don’t recall anyone ever accusing him of being an especially cerebral player.

  16. safe@home on May 24th, 2013 10:26 am

    While I’m not hopeful, it’s worth a shot. I think Jeff is right, maybe have him focus on hitting first and then begin to offer another skill set. My concern is that his running is beyond weird and I’m having a hard time imagining him stretching out for wide grounder or a poorly thrown ball. He simply doesn’t look like a major league athlete.

  17. SonOfZavaras on May 24th, 2013 10:43 am

    If Montero learns enough to be able to fake it against NL opponents in order to keep his bat in the lineup, I can be cool with that.

    You really worry, though. I mean, if the guy isn’t athletic enough at 23 to hold down a position at the major-league level…he’s only going to get older and slower, know what I mean?

    I’m worried that by the time he’s 27, we’ll need a sundial to time him from home plate to first base.

  18. bookbook on May 24th, 2013 10:53 am

    Liddi is a decent 3b, but was pretty terrible at first, if I recall.

  19. MrZDevotee on May 24th, 2013 11:13 am

    Has anyone ever “sub-contracted” their minor league batting instruction?

    Like, could we trade James Paxton to the Reds or Cardinals in exchange for ALL of our supposed “elite tool” hitters getting to spend 3 years in their minor league system?

    Since we can’t seem to help anyone become a MLB hitter ourselves?

    I’m being facetious, obviously, but in a dreamworld I’d do it in a heartbeat.

  20. The_Waco_Kid on May 24th, 2013 11:27 am

    Jack Z is a disappointment. He’s still way better than Bavasi. He does some stuff well, other stuff not. Here’s the troubling trend I see.

    The theme of his tenure is hoping longshots will work out, often with no legit backup plan. Montero learning to catch, Guti staying healthy, veterans turning their career around. We’ve spent much of the Jack Z era saying “well, if [insert 10 outcomes] everything will be fine.”

    I’m not mad at him about this because it seems like the result of being hamstrung by ownership. And I’d need to see how Zunino and Franklin do in the majors before deciding he should be fired.

  21. globalalpha on May 24th, 2013 11:49 am

    Jesus Montero, pickin’ machine…

  22. GLS on May 24th, 2013 12:55 pm



    I especially wonder about the impact of the ownership group, which have always struck me as a collection of more or less well-meaning dilettantes; rich guys that made their money in other businesses and now dabble in baseball.

  23. GLS on May 24th, 2013 1:33 pm

    Great article here on the St. Louis Cardinals and why they are such a great, well-run organization:

  24. scraps on May 24th, 2013 2:42 pm

    rich guys that made their money in other businesses and now dabble in baseball.

    But that’s pretty much all baseball owners.

  25. diderot on May 24th, 2013 3:48 pm

    I don’t understand the idea that learning to play first would inhibit the simultaneous ability to learn to hit better.
    If there are 24 hours in a day…and it takes three of them to play a game…aren’t there enough left over to practice two other things?

    Plus, granted in a small sample size, didn’t he hit better last year when he was catching as opposed to just DH’ing?

  26. evolvingcaveman on May 25th, 2013 6:38 pm

    Wow, he played 1b his very 1st start in Tacoma. I swear I read somewhere you actually have to take time to learn a new position and yet he doesn’t even get a weeks worth of practice reps. Even two days worth or a couple DH’s? I’m honestly confused. Is it really that easy because if Montero can play 1st base after one day, anyone can do anything. God Bless America.

  27. bongo on May 25th, 2013 11:04 pm

    Montero seems to have lost considerable hand-eye coordination between this year and last. Given all the balls that have been fouled off Montero’s helmet, I wonder whether he should have a neurological workup. As a catcher, Montero was a risk to himself and others (the Mariners won-lost record).

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