Jesus Montero: Catch Him While You Can

SCRANTON, PA. — During my recent “call-up” to Triple-A Scranton, I was able to spend a few minutes chatting with former Trenton Thunder catcher Jesus Montero at his locker.

Montero, still just 21 years old, is universally regarded as the game’s top catching prospect ahead of Kansas City’s Wil Myers. But the big question has always been if he’ll remain behind the plate, with most people not associated with the Yankees organization firmly supporting the idea that he won’t.

For his part, Montero said that his work behind the plate is what’s made the most progress since he last called Trenton home.

“My defense has been good,” he said. “I’ve been working all the time with my coaches all the time here, and (Yankees minor league catching instructor) Julio Mosquera when he comes in, trying to do everything hard every time so I get better every single day.”

The bat has never needed work for Montero, who recently was named to the International League’s team in the Triple-A All-Star Game but was unable to play due to a lingering back injury. And it’s largely been the bat, not the glove, that’s led to him being named to his respective league’s All-Star game in each of his first four professional seasons. A .309 career minor league hitter, the Venezuelan-born backstop impressed the Waterfront Park faithful two seasons ago when a simple flick of the wrists sent his first Double-A home run about halfway up the batters eye in dead center, which sits 407 feet away from home plate.

It’s that impressive and seemingly effortless power stroke that will get him to the big leagues…eventually. Right now, it’s just a matter of where he’ll play. The running joke in Trenton was that if you asked Montero about the weather, he’d tell you how much he wanted to catch. Long story short, it’s very important to him, and that’s why he’s continued to work on his defense this season.

“It’s important to me, because the Yankees have been telling me if you can catch, you can play in the big leagues and you can catch in the big leagues,” he said.

“They tell me already that I can hit, they know that already. But I’ve been working hard really hard on defense so I can play in the big leagues one day.”

“I feel good. I don’t make any of the decisions, but I feel like it. But they’re going to decide first. I’ll just do my job here.”

Montero, who is in his second full season in Triple-A, said that the jump was beneficial because he’s gotten to play with older players and catch older pitchers, which he feels has accelerated his learning curve. Defense aside — and that’s a big thing to just push aside, mind you — there’s little that’s keeping him out of the Bronx. And that’s OK, says Montero.

“No, it’s fine for me. I’m still young, and I’ve got things I’ve got to learn still,” he said. “I’m doing my job here and I’m trying to do everything good and one day play in the big leagues.”

But when asked just where it was he’d like to play in the big leagues…well, the answer was predictable.

“It’s important to me, because I’ve been a catcher all my life,” Montero said.

“I’m just trying to be a catcher in the big leagues. I’d like to catch in the big leagues and I’m trying to work hard behind the plate and help the pitchers win every time.”

Mike Ashmore, mashmore98 AT gmail.com

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