By Shannon Drayer
At the end of last season many, myself included, believed that we would not see a lot of Jesus Montero behind the plate in 2013. The Mariners drafted a catcher with their first pick and by all appearances Mike Zunino is the catcher of the future. Eric Wedge also that Montero would be given work at first in spring training. I think a lot of us thought a defensive catcher would be brought in and we would see something similar to what we saw this year with a three-catcher rotation until Zunino is ready.
Then came the additions of Jason Bay, Kendrys Morales and Raul Ibanez. The latter two in particular would need to get at bats at DH. All of a sudden Montero is looking like a catcher again. Throughout the offseason, when asked about the catching situation, Jack Zduriencik has answered with, “We have Montero and [John] Jaso.” Wedge has said he would like to see one of the two step up and grab the starting job. If both are hitting then it will be an interesting competition. A competition that could come down to defense, which is not a strong suit of either.
Jeff Datz, who works with Mariners catchers, hopes Jesus Montero will “be the guy who wants to lead the pitching staff.” (AP)
Evaluating catching defense is a tricky thing and the topic came up quite often last year as many questioned just what impact defense had in getting Montero or Jaso into the lineup as a catcher. Jeff Datz is the man who worked with both of them on a a daily basis. He joined us on the “Hot Stove League” show Tuesday and gave us a bit of a look into what they saw from the dugout.
On Montero, there was the good, the bad and the promising. The good? Datz more than once said he had “great hands.” Montero also has a strong arm and according to a couple of people I have talked to he calls a surprisingly good game for a catcher with limited experience.
The bad? He falls into bad habits, one of which is dropping to one knee, which hampers his ability to get good throws off. This is something he was told specifically to work on in the offseason.
As for pitch framing, Datz said he made it a point to talk to the umpire at third base the next day after Montero caught and ask how he worked behind the plate.
“The majority of those said he gives you a great look, hands are good, a little bit too much movement once and awhile,” Datz said. “He does lock in pitches, will carry some balls away from the strike zone once and awhile but for the most part was good to work behind for the umpire.”
An interesting and important perspective.
Going forward, Datz said he would like to see Montero “step up and take the bull by the horns, be the guy who wants to lead the pitching staff.” He said that he went through the normal ups and downs of a rookie catcher and that there were times when he wore down physically and mentally. In Montero’s second year, Datz would like to see a little more toughness.
Datz finished up his evaluation of Montero with glimpses of the promising.
“When he puts it together he is very good,” Datz said. “Blocking, receiving and footwork really came along. When he put it all together it is as good as it gets. We saw him throw out some pretty good base stealers. Still a work in progress and has a long way to go. We will challenge him again this year and continue to work with him this year and hopefully he will step up and do it.”
As for Jaso, 10 years into his professional career the work for him is less about development and more about improving on and working with what he has.
“Love the guy,” Datz said. “Quiet leader, gets the job done back there, nothing special, nothing fancy, he’s a grinder. Calls a good game, guys like throwing to him. He doesn’t throw real well, gets the ball in the air and is accurate, but receives and blocks well. Guys like throwing to him. He’s a quiet leader and obviously did a terrific job for us on the offensive side.”
Managing the catchers could be a tricky thing in 2013, especially if a third catcher is not brought in to start the year. Their bats kept them in the lineup last year, but with more options at DH, Montero and Jaso may find their best avenue to getting into the lineup in 2013 will be through improved defense behind the plate.