The Seattle Mariners have reportedly sent starting pitcher Michael Pineda to the New York Yankees for top hitting (and catching) prospect Jesus Montero. Pitcher Hector Noesi is also reportedly heading to Seattle, but make no mistake about it: this deal was made to get the Mariners an impact hitter with Montero. Let's learn a little bit more about the 22-year old catcher.
Montero has been ranked as a top-prospect for a few years now and scouts drooled over his bat as he made his way through the Minor Leagues. There are some (including quite a few in the Yankees organization) who had doubts whether or not he could handle being an everyday starter behind the plate and some believe he will end up as a first baseman and/or designated hitter. Keith Law of ESPN had him ranked as the No. 4 overall prospect in baseball entering the 2011 season.
He got a cup of coffee with the Yankees this past season, belting out four home runs in just 69 plate appearances. He hit .328/.406/.590 in that time, although it was from a small sample size that was aided greatly by a BABIP of .400. In 109 games at Triple-A, Montero hit .288/.348/.467 with 18 home runs and 57 RBI. The kid knows how to hit, folks.
Here is a snippet from John Sickels' scouting report that was written a few months ago.
The 6-3, 235 pound Montero has everything needed to be a force at the plate, including power to all fields, bat speed and strength to spare. His strike zone judgment isn't perfect, but his strikeout rate is reasonably low for a young power hitter, and while he could need some adjustment time, scouts anticipate he'll hit for average in the long run. Even a conservative estimate projects him as an above-average power hitter for years to come, and it is easy to envision him as an MVP-type producer at his peak, hitting .300 with strong home run production.
Any doubts about Montero center on his glove. He has a strong throwing arm, but his throwing mechanics are less than ideal and he's not especially effective against basestealers. He caught just 20% this year for Scranton, and 21% in his minor league career. Other aspects of his defense have gradually improved. He's steadily cut down on passed balls (15 last year but just seven this year) and errors, and he has improved his mobility behind the plate. However, despite the improvement in his statistics, most scouts still rate his defense as mediocre at best, and as he gets older what flexibility he has will likely decline. There has been some talk of making him a first baseman, but he's never played the position and that won't help him much in New York, anyhow.
In the end, Montero will likely spend much of his career at DH, and there's nothing wrong with that if his bat develops as expected. Given his sweet spot on the age curve, he should develop into a premium offensive force. Even if his glove never improves further, his bat will keep him in the lineup for a long time.
Assuming everything checks out once the players undergo physicals, this will go down as one of the biggest trades of recent years. The Mariners got themselves a potential All-Star caliber slugger, while the Yankees got themselves a proven starting pitcher with the talent to become an ace on the mound.
For more on the deal, head on over to Lookout Landing.