By Brent Stecker
With a full year of MLB service already under his belt, it’s easy to forget that the Mariners’ Jesus Montero is still just a 23-year-old learning the ropes as a Major League catcher and hitter. And as Mariners manager Eric Wedge told “Brock and Danny” last week, that’s a big reason why backup catcher Kelly Shoppach has spelled the struggling Montero several times already this season.
“Montero’s had his struggles, but he has a lot on his plate,” Wedge said. “With what we’ve asked him to do behind the plate, from a catching standpoint, I think that’s probably had a little bit of an effect on him. But that’s something he’s gonna have to handle.”
Through 12 games this season, Montero has managed just a .209 batting average, .460 OPS, two RBI and no home runs. And though he’s been solid behind the plate with just one passed ball, but he’s yet to throw out a runner attempting to steal a base in six chances.
“He’s still young in regard to being a catcher, and he’s still young in regard to being a hitter,” Wedge said. “(It’s) difficult to do both those things at this level, and he’s giving us great effort. He’s working his tail off, but it’s just difficult for a young catcher to be able to do everything that you need to do, and that of course includes hitting.”
Though it’s expected that the Mariners will promote top catching prospect Mike Zunino from Triple-A Tacoma something this season – a move that could push Montero to mainly play designated hitter or first base – Wedge said Montero has shown dedication to improving his defense.
“I really like the way he’s really focusing on the mental side of the game, calling a game and working with pitchers,” he said.
Wedge hasn’t given up on the potential that prompted Seattle to trade former All-Star pitcher Michael Pineda to the Yankees to acquire Montero, and said the team is doing all it can to speed up his progression.
“He has a lot of ability as a hitter, (but) he’s still learning. We’re trying to help him as best we can and give him opportunities but yet still trying to protect him and give him some time off,” Wedge said. “Ultimately we just have to keep supporting him, keep working and help him get better.”