The One Part I Don’t Understand
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.
Minor league infield instructor Chris Woodward was going to leave Tacoma today, but was asked to stay with the team and teach Montero 1B.
— Mike Curto (@CurtoWorld) May 24, 2013
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.