Jesus Montero next in line for Yankees

NEW YORK -- With Jorge Posada almost definitely entering his final season as a Yankee, the team's top catching and hitting prospect, Jesus Montero, likely will enter spring training with a chance to be a vital part of the 2011 team.

"Is Montero ready for the big leagues?" GM Brian Cashman said on Monday. "I have people who believe that he is. He is going to have to prove that. He is an exceptionally talented person. Potential means you haven't made it yet."

Although there are still months of maneuvering that could alter the Yankees' plans, they hope to complement the age of the 38-year-old Posada, the expected-to-re-sign 36-year-old Derek Jeter and the 35-year-old Alex Rodriguez by using them in the DH position more and resting them more than they did this past season.

At this point -- before the Yankees sign any free agents or make any deals -- Montero and Eduardo Nunez could go into spring training as important members of the team. The Yankees are definitely going to look to improve their bench to protect the health of their aging star veterans.

The Yankees had Nunez, who is primarily a shortstop, play a variety of positions in Triple-A this year with the expectation that he may be a super utility player next year. He hit .280 in 50 at-bats with the Yankees and was added to the ALCS roster when Mark Teixeira hurt his hamstring.

If he can hit at the major league level, he could spell Jeter and A-Rod one day a week next season. The two veterans also could hit in the DH spot some.

Yankees manager Joe Girardi said that in retrospect, he wishes he had played Jeter fewer than 157 games during the regular season.

Due to injury and time off, Posada played only 80 games at catcher this season. It doesn't sound as if he will play more than that next season in the final season of his current four-year deal.

Girardi said that Posada can't play more than three out of every four games behind the plate.

"That's a discussion that we are going to have to have," said Girardi, who is expected to re-sign with the team shortly.

Montero, who will turn 21 next month, is a very important Yankee. Cashman has been willing to trade Montero only as the main cog in an almost-deal for Cliff Lee, then with Seattle, and in discussions for Roy Halladay, then with Toronto. Cashman could trade Montero for a big-time starter if he can't sign Lee this offseason.

If the Yankees do sign Lee, it is less likely they will go as hard after the top outfield free agents, Carl Crawford or Jayson Werth. That would mean that Montero could be very important.

The Yankees could carry three catchers with Montero and Posada getting a lot of time at DH. Francisco Cervelli, who was up-and-down, could be the third catcher. If Montero is not ready for the big leagues, Cervelli could have trouble holding on to his main backup position.

Meanwhile, Montero might be a young Posada, a plus hitter at the catching position, making up for average defense. At Triple-A Montero finished the season well after a slow start, hitting .289 with 21 homers and 75 RBIs. Top Yankees officials felt that his defense progressed to the point where he can catch in the majors.

"I do have people who believe he is ready at the catching position with a tremendous offensive bat," Cashman said. "But nothing gets handed to somebody. You have to take it and earn it. He'll have a chance to come to spring training and fight for something, and he'll either show he is ready for something at a higher level or not."

Andrew Marchand covers baseball for ESPNNewYork.com. You can follow him on Twitter.

More from ESPNNewYork.com »