Encouraging signs from the new-look Jesus Montero

Mar 6, 2015, 9:47 AM | Updated: 9:54 am
After an inglorious start to this Mariners career, Jesus Montero has lost 40 pounds and is "in a good place" mentally, manager Lloyd McClendon said. (AP)

I know it’s a pipedream, but I hope Jesus Montero will be a Seattle Mariner instead of a Tacoma Rainier when spring training ends in early April.

I haven’t looked at the roster numbers because if I did, I’d know it’s improbable. Plus the Mariners already have a starting first baseman in Logan Morrison. Any argument of platooning the left-handed swinging Morrison with Montero loses steam because LoMo hits lefties better than righties.

But those of us in the Jesus Montero Fan Club were encouraged by his 2-for-2 start in the Mariners’ first spring-training game Wednesday against the Padres. He also had a nice stretch at first base to receive a throw and looked better on the basepaths than he did last year. It figures that Montero, though he’ll never be called athletic, would at least be more agile than he was before after losing 40 pounds. On the radio broadcast, Aaron Goldsmith even called him “nimble.”

To be honest, I’m not sure why I pull for this guy. He has squandered his talent to this point. He was terrible as a catcher. He was suspended for taking performance-enhancing drugs. He’s everything I should dislike about a professional athlete yet I root for this galoot because I keep going back to scouts loving him as a hitter.

Mariners general manager Jack Zduriencik liked him so much that he tried to trade for him twice. He almost sent Cliff Lee to the Yankees for Montero before changing course last minute and sending Lee to Texas for Justin Smoak instead. Then he actually acquired Montero the following year in exchange for right-hander Michael Pineda, who at times looked like the next Felix Hernandez when he pitched for the Mariners.

That’s how highly regarded Montero is. Zduriencik wasn’t alone in his evaluation of Montero’s bat. There were questions about his ability to catch (since answered), but no one had issues with Montero at the plate.

The whole time he’s been here, Montero has struck me as being a lovable lug. I’ll never forget seeing him smile during a key at-bat during the ninth inning of a game in 2012.

In 135 games in that season, Montero hit .260 with 15 home runs and 62 RBIs. That showed his potential. And in 18 games with the Yankees in 2011, he had a .996 OPS, which no doubt grabbed Zduriencik’s attention.

Yes, he overran a foul pop-up in Wednesday’s game, but I’m calling that an aberration. The sun must have been in his eyes. Or maybe the second baseman should have helped him out. Whatever, it’s spring training and he’s learning a new position.

As you know, Montero, while rehabbing with Single-A Everett, was suspended by the Mariners last August after trying to go after a scout in the stands during a game at Boise. He was mad about the scout sending an ice-cream sandwich to him in the dugout.

“He’s come a long way,” Mariners manager Lloyd McClendon told 710 ESPN Seattle’s “Brock and Salk” on Thursday. “I think a lot of credit needs to be given to this organization. Obviously, Jesus worked extremely hard, but this organization took a stand and put a line in the sand and said, ‘This is it. This is as far as you go. We’ve got to get your life back in order. Let’s put the baseball aside and let’s get you better as a human being.’

“And I think he’s in a good place. He’s a good family man now, he’s a good father, he’s got himself in great physical condition, from a mental standpoint he’s in a good place. And now he needs to just go out and compete.”

If Montero doesn’t earn a spot with the Mariners out of spring training, he’ll have plenty of opportunities to become a better first baseman after Ji-Man Choi broke his leg in Wednesday’s game. I’m guessing that will make Montero the Rainiers’ everyday first baseman if he’s not a part-time first baseman in Seattle.

I like Morrison, but there are always injury concerns with him. If he breaks down, I like to think that Montero will be ready to replace him. Morrison is an average first baseman defensively so it’s not like we’ll see a glaring difference if Smoak were still here.

Montero is still only 25 years old. He has taken care of his personal problems. He also has a daughter now, and I’m guessing that’s helped to change him as a person and hopefully as a player.

The Jesus Montero story has been a head-scratcher so far, but there’s still a chance for a happy ending.

No starting pitcher.

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Encouraging signs from the new-look Jesus Montero