Monday, February 28, 2011

Optimism Growing For Jesus Montero

Yes, it was just one exhibition game that doesn't count. And, yes, three at bats and a few innings of work behind the plate make little difference in the grand scheme of things. But it was still convincing enough to grow optimistic that Jesus Montero is ready for the big leagues right now both at the dish and behind it.

More than anyone else at the plate yesterday in the Yankees' B-team line up, Montero simply looks like a great hitter. He never seems off balance and he seems to track the pitch really well. Against Joe Blanton (no slouch pitcher) in his first at bat, Montero smashed a liner but it went right to the Phillies' third baseman. The second at bat showed a little lack of patience as Montero swung at the first pitch and jammed himself on a fastball that was diving at his hands. He grounded that pitch weakly to the left side of the infield. His third at bat was convincing. Again, Montero was jammed and this time the pitch sawed the bat right out of his hands so that all he was holding was the knob. But he's so strong that the ball nonetheless zipped through the infield for a single.

But what was even more impressive to this observer was his work behind the plate. No, he didn't have to try to throw out any base runners and no, he didn't have to block any balls in the dirt. But he did look natural back there and relaxed. He didn't cuff the ball when he caught it but received it softly and held it fast for the umpire to get a good look. Montero looked like he was in control of the situation and worked well with his pitchers. The only bad moment was the first pitch from Sergio Mitre. It seems that Mitre and Montero weren't on the same page with the signs and the pitch fooled Montero. We all got a scare when the ball deflected off of Montero's bare hand back to the backstop. But the catcher seemed okay and got through the inning with no further damage.

You can't give a catcher too much credit when the pitching goes well, but it was nice to see that all the pitchers pitched well in Montero's innings behind the plate. Nova was excellent. Betances was jaw-dropping and Mitre showed why he can be effective for an inning here and there.

Overall, the game was a great showcase for the debut of Jesus Montero and it was great to hear Yankee manager, Joe Girardi, say during the game that Montero has been a pleasant surprise so far this spring and has improved greatly since last year as a catcher. It's only one game. It was only one game that didn't count. But it was enough to drool over the prospect of Montero opening the season with the Yankees. Russell Martin isn't being helped by lingering knee issues so far early this spring as Francisco Cervelli looked more than capable in the Saturday's game against the Phillies. And now Montero looks like the bomb.

Speaking of bombs, again, it's only one game and only an exhibition, but Ivan Nova looked commanding and confident in his two innings of work. And Betances was outstanding framing a walk with three strikeouts in his one inning of work. From this Fan's perspective, it is hoped that these kids get the chance and that general manager, Brian Cashman, can resist the temptation to trade away young talent for another pitcher that might not throw as well as these kids do for the Yankees right now.

In one other Yankees note, Jorge Vazquez hit his second homer in two games. Maybe the Yankees should forget about this Eric Chavez experiment and just use Vazquez as their back up first baseman.

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