Thursday, July 2, 2009

Holy Jesus Montero!

His name is Jesus Montero. He's 19 years old and was recently promoted to AA Trenton, where he's done nothing but mash.

You may have heard of him.

Without question he is the best hitting--especially power hitting--prospect the Yankees have in the minors.

There is no guarantee that Montero can keep hitting as he is, or that he will make it in the Majors, but what is clear is that he is outperforming some of the game's best when they were at that level.

What I've done in this post, then, is taken some of the game's best hitters today and in the past decade, and given you their lines for both their age-19 seasons and their first AA seasons (since most players are not 19 at AA). And then I'll give you Jesus' line, through 19 games.

Albert Pujols

Without question, Pujols is the best hitter in the game today. He's already got 30 HR before the All Star break, and with the caveat that smart teams don't pitch to him because he has almost 0 protection in the line up.

Pujols is an interesting case because he broke into stateside professional baseball at age 20--wherein he advanced from A- to AAA, and outright skipped AA altogether.

For the year, across all three levels, his totals were .314/.378/.543/.920 with, as you might imagine, most of the damage coming at low-A where he hit .324/.389/.565/.953. He played over 100 games at low-A; 21 at high-A and 3 at AAA.

Miguel Cabrera

In the 07-08 off season, the trade that sent Cabrera to Detroit (along with Dontrelle Willis) in exchange for Cameron Maybin and Andrew Miller was hailed as the biggest of the off season (until some dude named Santana went to the Mets). There's never been a question about Cabrera's bat; the question over his defense seems to have been solved by moving him from third to first.

At his age-19 season, Cabrera was at high-A, and over 124 games put together a line of .274/.333/.421/.754, with 9 HR, 38 walks and 85 strikeouts.

At AA the nest year, at age-20, over 69 games, Cabrera seems to have stumbled onto a miracle cereal, or something--at level where many bats go to die, Cabrera blossomed to .365/.429/.609/1.038, with 10 HR, only 49 strikeouts and 31 walks.

He skipped AAA entirely.

Hanley Ramirez

Often considered the #1 fantasy player in the game, because he hits well, and unlike Pujols, doesn't have an injury history.

He seems to have taken a course that is more common for some of the game's top prospects.

At age 19 in the Sally League, in 111 games, Ramirez hit .275/.327/.403/.730 with 8 HRs, 73 strikeouts and 32 walks.

His age 20 season was spent in three different leagues, ultimately ending at AA; his age 21 season was spent entirely at AA.

At that season, age 21 at AA, Ramirez hit over a course of 122 games, .271/.335/.385/.720, with 6 HR, 62 strikeouts and 39 walks.

Like Cabrera before him, he skipped AAA entirely.

Mike Piazza

As a power-hitting catcher who didn't catch very well, Piazza could be Montero's best comparison--although Piazza didn't break into even the minors until his age-20 season.

He was already 23 when he first appeared at AA ball, and over 31 games, he hit .377/.441/.658/1.099, with 7 HR, 18 strikeouts and 13 walks. The stats are astounding...and may explain why he didn't stay at AA for very long; I am inclined to think that age here is also a factor.

Andruw Jones

Never mind the sudden falling-off-the-face-of-the-earth; Jones did some crazy good things in his prime.

In his age-19 season, Jones made it all the way from high-A to AAA, so as an age comparison he probably works best with Montero.

At age-19 and in AA, over 38 games, Jones hit .369/.432/.675/1.107 (Holy $#$@#$), with 12 HR, 34 strikeouts and 17 walks.

So what about Jesus Montero?

At age 19, over the course of 19 games thus far, Montero's hit .319/.395/.542/.937, with 4 HR (12 for the year over all) with nine walks and only six strikeouts.

So, right now, Montero isn't hitting like Jones hit in AA, but unlike Jones and everyone else on the list, he has more walks than strikeouts. Last year, there was huge split, with 83 strikeouts to 37 walks; the gap has narrowed at each level, and it will be interesting to see if he can keep it up.

Nineteen games is a very small sample size, but four home runs over this time period is about one HR every five games--and this is in a pitcher's league, in a pitcher's park.

What makes Montero all the more impressive is that he is doing all of this, and he doesn't even turn 20 until November.

Now, Montero isn't a perfect prospect--he doesn't play great defense, and he, like many catchers, is slo-o-ow, but with a bat that can mash like his can, you end up pretty willing to deal with that.

One thing I've noticed--these players all seem to play only part of a season at a certain level or skip a level entirely.

Could Montero skip AAA?

It's unlikely--even if his bat is major league ready at the end of this season (unlikely, but you never know), his defense will hold him back. A hitter that good you can find a role for, especially in the AL, but with what will soon be a glut at DH, the Yankees would be best served by finding a position--any position--that Montero can play even remotely competently in the field. Catching would be the first choice--since that will give him the most value, but there are also rumors of left field. First base would seem almost natural, but as long as Teixeira's there for the next 8 years, Montero would be blocked at that position.

Still, Montero has been incredibly fun to follow thus far, and shows little sign of slowing.