You may have seen that the Jesus Montero era ended with the Seattle Mariners. The Mariners had to make a decision on Korean free agent Dae-Ho Lee by Sunday and put him on the 40-man roster, indicating Lee will make the team as the right-handed platoon with Adam Lind at first base. With Montero out of minor league options, the Mariners attempted to send him to Triple-A Tacoma, but he had to clear waivers and the Toronto Blue Jays claimed him and put him on their 40-man roster.
Montero still has to make Toronto's Opening Day roster or once again be exposed to waivers if the Blue Jays attempt to send him down, and with Edwin Encarnacion, Chris Colabello and Justin Smoak set at DH and first base, it wouldn't seem that there's room for Montero on the roster. However, he's more likely to slip through waivers right before Opening Day when teams have essentially settled on their Opening Day rosters.
Anyway: What happened? When Montero came up through the New York Yankees’ system and was then traded before the 2012 season for Michael Pineda, he was viewed as a can't-miss hitting prospect. He peaked on Baseball America's top 100 list in 2011 at No. 3 and ranked No. 4 in 2010 and No. 6 in 2012.
"Montero may be the best all-around hitter in the minors, capable of .300 with 30-plus homers annually," Baseball America wrote in 2011, after Montero had hit .289/.353/.517 as a 20-year-old in Triple-A. "He doesn't have typical hitting mechanics, as he doesn't always have a smooth swing and can be a bit of a front-foot hitter, but his strength and hand-eye coordination help him overcome that. He has well above-average power, particularly to the opposite field." Baseball America wasn't the only one high on Montero. Keith Law ranked Montero fourth in 2011 and ninth in 2012. Baseball Prospectus ranked him third in 2011 and seventh in 2012. Everyone thought Montero would hit, even if they didn't believe he'd stick at catcher. Hmm, maybe not enough attention was paid to those flaws. Everyone also projected improvement after a strong season at age 20 at Triple-A (the fact that he wasn't as good in 2011 should have been a bigger warning sign).
So what happened? Dave Cameron has a piece up on FanGraphs, reminding us that evaluating hitting prospects isn't an exact science:
And that stuff was essentially the basis for the rosy projections for Jesus Montero, because he didn’t do anything else at a big league level. He couldn’t run or field, but he was identified as a potential superstar because a lot of very good evaluators were convinced that he had special offensive skills. And you know what? We don’t even know that they were wrong. Maybe Montero really does have those skills, but simply didn’t put in the requisite work in order to develop them properly. Maybe the systemic failures of hitting prospects coming through Seattle damaged Montero’s development, and resulted in something less than what he would have been elsewhere. Maybe he’s still going to become what he was projected to be, and we’re just seeing the beginnings of the next Edwin Encarnacion.
Maybe that's the case. Montero got fat, received a 50-game PED suspension in 2013 and then had the infamous ice cream sandwich incident in 2014. Montero did get in much better shape last season -- losing about 35 pounds, according to Greg Johns of MLB.com -- and hit .355/.398/.569 in 98 games with Tacoma, but in 865 career plate appearances in the majors he's hit .253/.295/.398 and in 116 PAs with the Mariners in 2015 he hit .223 with four walks and 32 strikeouts.
On the other hand, maybe scouts and evaluators just missed something. When the Mariners gave him a regular chance to play in 2012 as a DH and part-time catcher, one thing immediately struck me: He doesn't the pull the ball enough. While all the scouting reports cited his opposite-field power, nobody makes a living in the majors hitting home runs to the opposite field. You're not going to be a big slugger without hitting the majority of your home runs to the pull field. Here's Montero's hit chart from his rookie season in 2012 on fly balls, line drives and pop-ups:
OK, he did pull more of his home runs than I thought -- 12 of the 15 he hit -- but check all the fly balls hit into right field, especially near the foul line. That's not the stroke of a power hitter.
Maybe it was simply an issue of bat speed, I don't know. One thing that was missed about Montero as a prospect is that while he didn't strike out much for a slugger, he didn't walk a whole lot either. Major league pitchers exposed that aggressiveness and inability to lay off stuff off the plate. He's hit just .211/.225/.307 against offspeed pitches in the majors and proved especially vulnerable to right-handed pitching -- the old slider-away syndrome.
He did hit right-handers last year in the minors, so maybe he's learning. The Mariners weren't willing to find out; we'll see if he sticks with the Blue Jays.