Two years ago, Baseball America ranked Montero as the No. 3 prospect in the game. One year ago, he was the No. 6 prospect in the game. Today he's heading from the Emerald City to the City of Destiny, his destiny more questionable than ever. From Larry Stone's take:
... When we asked Eric Wedge in Pittsburgh why the Mariners were being so persistent in working with Montero on his defensive skills when everyone knew Zunino was the catcher of the future, with the very talented John Hicks lined up behind him in Double-A (though currently on the DL with a groin injury), here's what the manager said:
"Because I believe in the test of time. I believe you give it every opportunity. Like I've always said, you'd rather be a day late than a day early. Because you can't change the day early. You can't replay that. That's just the lesson in discipline. That's where the press, or the fans, or sometimes people even internally, have to understand. Because that's my job as a manager, to play that out. That's the discipline and the strength I have to have. So when we make a decision...I'm a big believer in conviction. When you do it, you'd better be damn sure you're doing it for the right reasons, and you're doing it at the right time."
Hey, we all believe in conviction; that's why they call it conviction. But trying to force the issue with Montero behind the plate was about judgement as much as conviction. You might have 100 percent conviction that Justin Smoak can learn to play shortstop, but that doesn't mean he ever will. Which isn't to suggest the Mariners handled Montero incorrectly; he'd have been more valuable to the M's, or any other club, as an adequate catcher with a good bat. Now he's going to have to be something else, and with a great bat.
Which is still possible. The template here is Carlos Delgado. Nearly 20 years ago, Delgado was exactly as heralded as Montero. Like Montero, Delgado was a great-hitting catcher with some serious questions about his defense. Same age, same position, same reputation, same everything. And, O! How Delgado struggled in the majors! Through his Age 23 season, Delgado batted .194/.300/.378 in 260 plate appearances.
Montero's actually been a lot better than that: .258/.303/.396 in 732 plate appearances through his Age 23 season (so far). Granted, this might actually be a negative; maybe Montero's simply had more time to show his true colors than Delgado. Maybe if Delgado had played more, he would have hit better.
When Delgado was 24, he shifted completely to DH/1B duties and broke through with a solid full season in the majors. Two years later, he ranked among the American League's best hitters.
The M's have to stick with Jesús Montero because he was, just a year ago, one of the more exciting young hitters on the planet. Absent injury, there are very good reasons to believe he'll become exciting once more. At this point, it's probably not realistic to assume he'll become the next Carlos Delgado.
But before you give up on him as a hitter, you'd better be damn sure you're doing it for the right seasons.