Over the past week or two, 23 year old catcher Jesus Montero has seen his playing time drop in favor of veteran Kelly Shoppach. He has only played three of the last eight games, and sat last night in the opening game in Arlington. Catchers usually get a day or two off a week, so he is not expected to play every day. And his struggles this year (.205 wOBA, 30 wRC+) makes some decrease in playing time understandable. But not so much that he is only starting 3 games a week.
In my opinion, prospects, or really any young player who is or was thought highly of, needs to be getting consistent playing time somewhere. Generally, as seen this year with Jurickson Profar, teams opt to leave their prized prospects in the minors rather then giving them a bench role in the bigs. It seems that most people agree that it is better for developing players to get regular at-bats, even in the minors, than sit on the bench 5-6 days a week.
And to me, it is the same situation for Montero. Obviously he isn’t a “prospect” anymore, but he is still only 23 years old, and was once a very highly regarded player. He has not come close to reaching those expectations yet, and has thus seen his playing time dwindle. After last year, most people wrote off his struggles a little bit because he was so young. But now, just a year older, people are already starting to throw in the towel on his future. And in seems Eric Wedge may be part of that group.
We cannot know that for sure obviously, but his failure to get him in the lineup suggests he is not a big Jesus fan. And it is for that reason that I think something has to be done.
If Shoppach is going to keep getting 4-5 starts a week with Montero only getting 2-3, then I think it may be a good idea for Montero to be sent down to Triple-A Tacoma so he can get consistent at-bats–probably at designated hitter due to the presence of Mike Zunino.
This move is not purely motivated by the playing time however. As I mentioned and as all of you know, Montero has looked terrible at the plate. Shoppach has outhit him by far (still very early), and probably deserves to play. But it is too early to give up on Montero’s bat, so AAA is the best option. He definitely has things–many, many things– to work on at the plate, and the minors may be the place to do it.
You could make the argument that he just needs work with MLB coaches, but the reputations of our hitting instruction is not very reassuring. There is also the problem posed by a lack of a replacement. The catchers in Triple-A right now are Zunino, and Jesus Sucre. Neither are “ready” for the bigs right not either. And I certainly would not call up Zunino just because Montero looks terrible. But with Sucre, why not? He may not be ready, but neither is Montero. So it comes down to this: Who’s progress would you rather stunt, Jesus Montero’s, or Jesus Sucre’s? When you think about it like that, its a no-brainer. Sucre looks like a backup at the very best, so I’d much rather let him sit and watch than Montero. I mean, he is pretty much doing that in AAA already, so who cares if he does it 35.8 miles north instead? And yes, that is the exact distance from Safeco to Cheney.
Plus, it looks to me that Jesus just needs to be completely retooled at the plate, and could benefit from a fresh start. And AAA is the place to do that. I just don’t see how people can improve without playing everyday, or almost every day, and getting their in-game reps. Sure, sometimes guys need a night or two off to get their mind right during a slump. But to me, this isn’t just an ordinary slump. He just looks lost at times, and needs to reset, play every day, and fix whatever it is that is holding him back.
What do you think is the best way to handle Montero? Is it okay that he is watching from the bench 4 or 5 days a week, or should he be playing every day in AAA?