Monday, February 28, 2011

The Hype Machine Working In The Other Direction

Jesus Montero is presently the most highly rated offensive prospect in the game. By now you’ve probably heard the evaluation on him: his bat is special enough to play anywhere on the field, but there are serious questions about whether or not he can stick at catcher.

Now, I have no doubt that at one time his defense was bad enough that this was a legitimate statement. However I am now getting the feeling that this is one of those things that has taken on a life of its own. With a big prospect on a big team, if one “buzz” saying gets thrown out there, then everyone will start repeating it ad nauseum even by people who have never seen him play and have no idea if it is true or not. Most importantly, they will do so even as things change – like, you know, a young kid improving at something he wasn’t that good at. The reality is people have been saying this about Montero for years. Just because it was true when it was first being said doesn’t mean it’s still true now.

The flip side of this is that knowledgeable baseball people continue to have concerns about his defense. Who knows, maybe some even think the above evaluation is still true. But it seems to me like the tide is shifting from “he’s so bad he can’t stay behind the plate” to “he might be able to get to a passable level back there”. The impetus for this post was me seeing him play with my own eyes yesterday for the first time since last Spring Training, and thinking to myself “at the very least, he looks just fine back there”. By fine, I mean he looked comfortable. He looked natural in his crouch, was framing pitches with ease, and just seemed to be in command of the position. Now, I didn’t get to see him put a tough block on a baseball with a runner on 3rd, or try to throw out Carl Crawford trying to steal second base. And again, I’m sure there are things like that which he does not excel at. If there weren’t smart baseball people wouldn’t continue to question his defense. But the way people were talking – and especially now with the mass media picking up on it – he couldn’t catch a fastball thrown right to his glove. Guess what, he can.

I know in many ways this is a simplistic analysis. But maybe that’s what it’s supposed to be? If his bat really is as special as everyone criticizing his glove is also saying it’s going to be, and he really is going to be a complete .300+ hitter going downtown 35+ times per year (which is obviously no guarantee, but that's another story), how good does he have to be? Both teams on this site have recently watched offensively proficient, defensively deficient catchers carve out outstanding careers for themselves. At one point, I wouldn’t be surprised if similar things were being said about them that are now being said about Montero.

Of course, they took it to the next step and translated it to the Major Leagues. But, particularly in V-Mart’s case, it wasn't a high bar that was set in terms of what is passable defense for an offensive catcher (Posada, particularly in his prime, was a far better catcher. If Montero turns into anything close to him I’ll be thrilled.). Based on what I saw yesterday, I became increasingly confident that he can get to that passable level. It’s beyond a small sample, but if you look like you can handle the position competently that’s a big part of it. And that’s how he looked. I realize we need to see a lot more (especially situationally), and I’m certainly not jumping to the conclusion that he can definitely catch just based on a few innings. I’m just saying he looked like a catcher, which is better than what many have said. While he's not there, I think the chances of him being able to catch at the Major League level are rising despite what the (in this case negative, which is unusual for a prospect) hype machine is saying.

TO that end, I would not be surprised if at some point this year he is playing the same role for this team that Posada played in the late 90’s, catching a few games per week. If his bat is ready, I could see him DHing some too. He could be a big bonus for this offense, especially if he is in fact able to add offensive value from the catcher position.

6 comments:

Anonymous said...

PF

I don't know anything about Montero other than what I read on this blog. But here's my take on this situation: Even if he's not a great defender, he's still a valuable asset if he can hit because you just don't have that many catchers who can. Look at Victor Martinez--he's widely criticized as a defensive liability and yet he was a coveted free agent and has been a big part of several very good major league line-ups.

--the Gunn

Ross Kaplan said...

Well Patrick, that was a very well written post, but unfortunately that leaves me very little to comment on.

I've been thinking, do the Yankees really need to carry 3 catchers on the roster assuming it will be Martin and Posada, plus either Cervelli or Montero? Martin is the defacto starting catcher and Posada is the DH, but that certainly doesn't preclude him from starting any games this season. Also that way on days Posada is catching, A-Rod or Jeter get a day off from the field and DH. I feel like that extra roster spot could be better served with a decent hitting or fast running non catcher.

the gm at work said...

The snowballing effect that Pat puts into perspective here is absolutely accurate. Of course this, like many other things, is fueled by the fact that media members are forced to be overprolific and sensationalize things based on nothing but reputation. For better or for worse, there aren't any private investigators following, well, most baseball players.

The most similar opinion presented as fact is something I've had to counter-argue in two separate years here on How Youz Doin Baseball, and that's the perception that Alex Gonzalez is a terrible offensive player. He wasn't. Injury-prone, yes. Not a Silver Slugger award winner, yes. Somewhat streaky, yes. But let's not pretend that Alex Gonzalez is Mario Mendoza here. He was not, and if you watched his contributions, either looking at the games or looking at any objective numbers instead of reading opinions, you'd know that.

Montero may be along the same lines.

Patrick said...

gunn -

right on point. you always want a complete player, but you can't always have one. at the catching position, if you can really hit, you don't have to be a great defensive catcher. because it can be just as, if not more valuable than the alternative (if you can't have a complete catcher) of a good defensive catcher who can't hit. personally, i'd rather have the former if i had to decide between the two. you just have to be able to play reasonable defense. that's what i'm getting at with montero here, i think he might be able to do that despite all the hype that maybe he can't. he definitely seems to be improving.

ross -

i think you carry three catchers to start: posada, martin, and cervelli. posada is going to be the everyday DH, especially early on when there are so many built in off days that regulars don't need DH days as much. martin is likely to be the everyday catcher. cervelli is your back-up. that allows montero to get in the swing of things at AAA, and if he's called up after june 1, save the yankees an arbitration year. if he's going to be anywhere near as good as poeple think, saving an arbitration year is no small thing, it basically gives you an extra year of team control in most instances. if montero proves he's ready, you shuffle the rest of the catchers from there. to your point about the bench spot being better utilized, i would agree if you look at posada as a catcher. i'm just not sure the yankees are looking at him that way. i think they see him as a switch-hitting DH who can come off the bench when not DHing, that just happens to be able to catch in a pinch. basically carrying two catcher's with an emergency catcher whose biggest strength happens to be hitting. when you look at it this way, i think carrying "three catchers" makes a lot of sense. while acknowledging things could change, girardi said the other day the plan for now is to use him strictly as a DH. i'd be surprised if that held true all year, but for the time being, that's the route they seem to be going.

gm -

good comp with gonzalez. that illuminated a potential notion further for me: if someone is really good at one part of the game, but not as good in the other, is the natural tendency to highlight that deficiency, and make it seem worse than it is? what i mean by this, if gonzalez wasn't such a great defender, or if montero wasn't so highly regarded offensively, would there more moderate offense/defense not be as noticeable? it's almost as if people either expect them to be as good in the lesser part of their game as they are in their stronger, or that they want to knock them for not being so. maybe it's just that the gap between the two facets of the game is easier to see when someone has a decided strength. but there is really no thing wrong with being elite in one facet of the game and just average in another. it's not a complete player, but it's far better than being average all-around or, obviously, below-average all around. this rather obvious point seems to get missed more often than not.

Anonymous said...

I don't have much to add here- talk around me, of course- but I did want to pass along the following announcement:

MARCH MANIA IS BACK!!!111!!!!1!

REMATCH!!!

BEAT CONN!!!1!

BEAT TRIN!!!1!!

BEAT BATES!

And of course, check the honor roll to see who has yet to donate.

TimC

the gm at work said...

Tim,

I don't understand why a "rematch" is necessary. I'm pretty sure Colby HS held an event, presumably on a yacht, celebrating the fact that they came in second place last year.

Somebody should go up to President Adams and say, "I'm an F-18, bro."