Introducing Jesus MonteroPotential heir apparent to Jorge Posada to play in Futures Game
The fact that Montero is the first RiverDog to receive an invitation to the annual All-Star Futures Game since outfielder Jose Tabata in 2006 says enough. The glowing returns on the evolution of Montero, a native of Venezuela who will play for Tino Martinez's World team, is reassurance there is life after a Yankees icon decides to call it a career.
Along with Francisco Cervelli and RiverDogs teammate Austin Romine, Montero is on pace to the heir apparent to the irreplaceable Jorge Posada, if not ahead of the curve.
"I think he can [be]," said Yankees Senior Vice President, Baseball Operations Mark Newman. "Not discounting those guys, but I think Montero can be an outstanding Major League player. He can catch, he can hit for power. I think he'll be a leader and a really good player. We're hoping he or one of our other [prospects] can take Georgie's place and perform the way Posada has."
It's been a long road back for Pena, who turns 23 next week. He endured three stints on the disabled list in 2006 and hit just .257 in 80 games for Trenton and Class-A Tampa. After batting .252 for the Thunder last season, Pena underwent offseason surgery to repair a torn labrum in his right shoulder and is still regaining arm strength. Regarded as a Type-A defensive player, Pena is improving as a hitter who drives the ball more consistently.
"He's always been a good defensive player and now he's coming along offensively, which is what we were hoping," Newman said.
Not too shabby of an evaluation. In fact, an extremely impressive progress report of someone who made his professional debut in the Gulf Coast League only a year ago. Montero may be 18, but he's also a catcher, which means he is expected to develop quicker compared to other prospects. Reported to be the best player with the most power of any 2006 international signee, Montero was signed as a non-drafted free agent on Oct. 17, 2006 for $1.6 million, the highest signing bonus for a Venezuelan inking his first professional contract. He made his pro debut with the Gulf Coast Yankees and batted .280 with three home runs and 19 RBIs in 33 games while committing just one error in 182 total chances.
Pretty good, but not good enough to impress RiverDogs manager Torre Tyson at the time. But after spending part of 2008 Spring Training with the Yankees and homering in his only at-bat, Montero has compiled three separate double-digit hitting streaks for Charleston, which includes a season-high 11-game streak from April 7-18.
Suffice to say, Tyson was convinced.
"From seeing him in Spring Training a year ago, I'm just shocked on how far he's come," said Tyson, who cited Montero's hitting and catching as out of control. "I didn't think a year ago he'd be my catcher and now he's doing a heck of job for me.
"He has that quality of a guy who can walk to the plate in the ninth [inning] with the bases loaded, get down 0-2 and it doesn't even faze him. He's the guy that we want in that situation and he's a guy who wants to be there."
Montero may handle his position with care, but opponents have run against him at will. Only 18 of 84 attempted base stealers have been caught, but it was a big improvement from Montero's 2007, when he threw out three in 32 attempts. According to Tyson, Montero has shaved off nearly 2/10ths of a second off his throwing time.
"He's down to a two flat, which is a big-league average," Tyson said. "He has a ways go to because he has a plus-plus arm and it should be better."
The next big step will commence this Sunday, when Montero plays at Yankee Stadium in a New York environment in a game televised on espn2 and broadcast by XM Satellite Radio - with his parents making the trip from Venezuela. Judging from how Montero's professional career is evolving, the Futures Game should be a giant leap.
"He has a high level of confidence in himself and his ability," Newman said. "He comes from a good family and is a bright kid, very smart."