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Reporter: Mariners keeping open mind on Montero

By Brady Henderson

Jesus Montero’s arrival at spring training has reignited discussions on the new Mariner’s long-term prospects as a catcher.

But unlike most analysts who have said that a move to first base or designated hitter is all but guaranteed, Larry Stone of The Seattle Times offered reason to believe that Montero has at least some hopes of remaining behind the plate.

“From the people I’ve talked to in the organization, they’re being very open-minded about this,” Stone told “The Kevin Calabro Show” on Monday. “They’ve looked at video and they think that he can be a serviceable catcher. At least that’s what they’re saying publicly.”

Mariners catcher Jesus Montero faces questions about his defense. (AP)

Keith Law, a former MLB executive who’s now an analyst for ESPN, isn’t buying it. He told “The Kevin Calabro Show” last month that while Montero has tremendous potential as a hitter, he can’t be an adequate catcher. Law was just as adamant when he joined “Brock and Salk” last week.

“He can’t catch. Nobody in Major League Baseball thinks this kid can catch. I don’t know why the Mariners are pretending that he’s going to be able to catch,” Law said.

“I understand the value of having him behind the plate, theoretically, would be enormous, but you’re risking injury. Much greater risk of injury at catcher than at first base/DH, you’re taking him out of the lineup for 20-25 games a year because he can’t catch 160 times a year, and he can’t actually catch; his receiving is poor, his footwork is poor, he has arm strength but it takes him a year and a half to get rid of the ball. He can’t catch.”

As Law mentioned, most of the misgivings of Montero as a catcher are rooted in the perception that he’s not athletic enough to overcome the limitations presented by his 6-foot-3, 235-pound frame, making it difficult to throw runners out.

“Catchers, when they go to throw the ball they’ll bounce up off the ground, come to two feet, reset their feet to throw to second base,” ESPN’s Buster Olney told “Bob and Groz” last month. “What the Yankees actually put in place for Montero was to anchor his right foot in one place, and basically he didn’t reset his feet when he threw to second base.

“Now, the good thing is he’s got a really strong arm. The bad thing is — and the reason why they did that, of course — is because he doesn’t have very quick feet. He had 14 passed balls in 2010.”

Stone estimates the Mariners will give Montero 20-40 games behind the plate this season and thinks they won’t necessarily come to any conclusions in spring training on his viability as a catcher.

“I think more likely they’re going to see a guy who they think needs to hone some skills,” he said. “[Manager] Eric Wedge is a former catcher. They have some other guys in the organization who could teach catching. My hunch is it’s going to be an ongoing project through the year, and then maybe by the end of the year they’ll assess whether or not he can catch.”

Stone thinks incumbent starter Miguel Olivo could become trade bait if Montero proves to be adequate behind the plate and John Jaso can have a reasonable facsimile of his strong rookie season in 2010.

Follow Brady Henderson on Twitter @BradyHenderson

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