In the wake of the New York Yankees deciding to send highly-touted catching prospect Jesus Montero to AAA Scranton Wilkes-Barre rather than open the season with him as their backup catcher, Wallace Matthews of ESPN New York decries "It is way too early, of course, to pronounce Jesus Montero a bust, or to declare that the New York Yankees' belief in his potential, expressed early, often and loudly all winter long, was a delusion."
Then Matthews sets about the task of doing exactly that -- making the case that the 21-year-old crown jewel of the Yankee farm system is exactly that. A bust. Because the Yankees have decided not to keep him at the major league level.
Matthews says things like:
- " ... there is no other way to look at his demotion on Monday back to Triple-A in favor of Gustavo Molina .., as anything but a blown opportunity."
- He references "the failure of Montero to make the Yankees."
- "Suddenly, Gary Sanchez, an 18-year-old who earlier this spring underwent surgery for a congenital heart ailment, leaps to the head of the Yankees' catching prospect class."
- Matthews says Montero's return to Scranton is "not how the Jesus Montero story was supposed to go."
What do I say to all of that? Hogwash! Wallace, what the heck are you talking about?
First of all, let's start with this. When incumbent backup catcher Francisco Cervelli broke his foot at the beginning of the exhibition season, there was anticipation among the Yankee fan base that the much-ballyhooed Montero would make the Opening Day roster. The Yankees did not say that was impossible, but they never said it was Montero's job to lose, either.
Let's be real here. Matthews does call the job of backup catcher "insignificant," which is an insult to John Flaherty, Joe Girardi, Fran Healy and everyone else who has ever filled that role. The point is, though, that Russell Martin was signed to be the starting catcher. Unless Martin went down with an injury, whoever the backup catcher is will only play once, or maybe twice every week.
What team takes a 21-year-old kid who is the top prospect in their minor-league system and whose skills are still developing, and plants him on the bench where he might see 15-to-20 at-bats in a month? That is not how you handle the best player in your farm system. When you bring a player like Montero to the big leagues you bring him there to play, not sit.
My guess, and I have no inside information on this, is that there is no way Montero was making the Opening Day roster unless Martin's surgically-repaired knee acted up and the Yankees needed someone else to catch nearly every day. Matthews, by extension, also labeled the other top catching prospect in camp, Austin Romine, a bust. Romine, had he hit better this Spring, might have made the team for 4-6 weeks as the backup -- since the Yankees and scouts across baseball see Montero as being ahead of him on the prospect scale.
Really, though, this is the logical -- and correct -- move. Do not bring your stud prospects to the big leagues unless you actually have a place for them to play. Let them continue to develop their skills by playing every day. If, at some point, the Yankees need an every day catcher then you bring one of them to the Bronx.
Montero a bust because he is starting the season at AAA? Nonsense!
-- Here is audio of Yankee manager Joe Girardi discussing the catching decision.