Yeah, so I know, small sample size. But, what the hell else am I supposed to write about? Yeah, Nelson Cruz is amazing. Yeah, King Felix really stepped up yesterday to preserve a tired bullpen en route to another series win (first time winning back-to-back series since late May, and only the second time it’s happened all year). But, come on, how many times am I going to write about how great these two guys are?
Besides, if nothing jumps out at me tomorrow, I might need to keep them in reserve.
Today, it’s all about Jesus Montero, Probable Cyborg & Unstoppable Baseball Killing Machine.
To say that I have – in the past, including the very recent past – not only written Jesus Montero off, but actively attacked his appearance and character and value as a human being is putting it mildly. The trade to bring him here was but one in a long line of failed Jackie Z moves that has left this organization in a perpetual state of spinning its tires in the mud and shit of mediocre baseball. Probably the only reason why he’s still around is that he’s under team control (pre-arbitration) and he still has options, so we could stash him in Tacoma to forget about him under the guise of allowing him to “resurrect his baseball career”.
That was the idea, anyway. He only got his act together in the most recent offseason, when he dropped 40 pounds and worked tirelessly on baseball fundamentals. But, that was following three increasingly-disappointing professional seasons; no one expected him to completely turn everything around in just a few months.
Then, in Tacoma, he started raking. The smell test didn’t quite pass – it was believed that he was simply taking advantage of fastball-heavy Triple-A pitching, and that he would revert to his old, unproductive form once he returned to the Majors and started facing a steady diet of bendy pitches.
Nevertheless, right around the All Star Break, the Mariners took advantage of Happ’s options to give Montero a brief but important look. In five games, he went 3 for 10 with an RBI, 3 walks, and 1 strikeout. He didn’t manage any extra-base hits, but getting on base three times and scoring a run in his final game definitely put people on notice (particularly with how much LoMo has been struggling since June 15th, when he had his batting average at a season-high .261; it has since fallen all the way down to .220).
With our deadline deals freeing up some space on the 25-man roster, Montero was one of the first guys called up. Since July 31st, he’s played everyday, appearing in nine games, going 10 for 30 and held hitless in only one of those games (a pinch hit deal in Colorado). In this most recent stint, he’s racked up 8 RBI, 2 homers, and 4 doubles to push his season-long slugging percentage up to .575 and his OPS up to .947, which leads all non-pitchers save Nelson Cruz, who is a golden god.
(small sample size)
We’ll get to watch Montero for the rest of this year (barring injury). That’ll give us 2.5 months of production to try to make assumptions on going into next year. Even 2.5 months is too small of a sample to REALLY get your hopes up too high (see: almost every second half of a season by Dustin Ackley & Justin Smoak in a Mariners uniform), but I’ll tell you why I think this could actually be different this time.
For starters, there’s already a book out on Montero. This isn’t some new prospect getting his first run in the Bigs like Ketel Marte; he’s been in 188 Major League games before this year, 170 in a Mariners uniform. There are countless scouting reports to tell you how guys have gotten Montero out in the past; one would THINK those reports would still be valid, if we’re talking about Montero being the same as he ever was.
Secondly, I’m hard-pressed to find a stretch in Montero’s Mariners career where he’s been as effective and he’s looked as good as he has in these last couple weeks. In 2011, with the Yankees, he looked every bit the stud he was projected to be, coming up through the minors. In 2012, in his first season with the Mariners, he was pretty solid in his first full season in the Bigs, but there were large droughts with a few great spurts mixed in. After that, he fell off the face of the Earth.
So, we’ll see. Maybe this is just one of those hot spurts, and he’ll finish the season in a prolonged slump, and all of this will have been written for naught. But, as far as eyeball tests go, Montero appears to be passing it with flying colors. Not only with his production at the plate, but with some heady and athletic plays in the field at first base. Granted, first base isn’t the most difficult position on the diamond, but he doesn’t look completely lost like we all expected. In fact, he looks damn near on par with what LoMo has given us defensively (small sample size).
I seem to write this next part every year around this time, but the benefit to Montero panning out would be ENORMOUS. A .300 hitter with pop who can play first base? That’s pretty much exactly what we need heading into next year (as I’ve stated before, LoMo is nobody’s everyday player, proven by his lackluster 2015). Montero’s presence as our starting first baseman in 2016 would allow us to focus our free agency efforts elsewhere (primarily the outfield, rotation, and bullpen). He lets us keep Seager in the 2-hole where he belongs, giving us a heart of the order that looks like this:
2 – Seager
3 – Cruz
4 – Cano
5 – Montero
That sets a lefty/righty/lefty/righty situation where other teams can’t just bring in their best lefty and mow us down like in years past.
Montero would bump LoMo down to a bench player (where he’s better suited in his career) and really locks in our infield (with Cano at second, Seager at third, Miller/Marte at short, and Zunino at catcher). The only trouble with this is that he forces Trumbo into being a primary corner outfielder (when one of them isn’t DHing), but we were never going to be able to re-stock the entire outfield anyway.
At some point – one would think – this team will have to get lucky with one of its hitting prospects. Why not Montero? Well, the longer I write this thing, the more discouraged I’m becoming, as I know I’ve written all of this before, and it’s bound to turn out to be the exact opposite of what I’m hoping for. So, I’m going to stop here. Since you can’t write one of these without throwing in a “small sample size” every few paragraphs, I’ll put one more in before I go: may this small sample size extend to infinity and beyond!