‘Hart of the Order’
By Sean Hartnett
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It’s very easy to get carried away when a rookie makes a grand introduction on the big stage that is Yankee Stadium.
There have been past youngsters that made an instant impact after donning the famous Yankee pinstripes, only to fade just as quickly into baseball’s prospect graveyard. So what does the future hold for Jesus Montero?
Montero’s storied moment came four games into his September call-up. The Yankees needed a big offensive showing on Monday afternoon as Freddy Garcia simply “didn’t have it.” Garcia surrendered 7 earned runs over 2.2 innings pitched. If not for Robinson Cano’s 2nd inning grand slam, it may have been a forgettable day at the stadium.
Montero’s first career home run was an important one as it gave the Yankees a 9-8 lead, but the product of his next at-bat was even more vital.
He matched his earlier opposite field blast with another, this time a two-run shot that increased the Yankees’ lead to 11-8. It turned out to be crucial as Boone Logan almost blew the game in the 8th and Mariano Rivera walked a tightrope before notching the save in a perilous 11-10 victory.
Unfortunately, his accomplishment links him to some not-so-legendary Yankees.
Shane Spencer channeled The Natural during his 1998 call-up and ended up smashing 10 home runs in his first 67 big league at-bats. Although injuries played a factor, Spencer managed only 59 total home runs in 7 major league seasons. Andy Phillips hit the first big league pitch he saw over the Green Monster at Fenway Park on September 14th, 2004. Phillips only lasted 5 major league seasons and collected 14 career home runs.
Most recently, Shelley Duncan captured the hearts of Yankee fans in 2007. He hit a home run in the second game of his major league career and followed that up with two prodigious home runs the next day. Duncan ended up hitting 7 home runs in 35 games that year but struggled to hold down major league job until his recent success with the Cleveland Indians.
What separates Montero is that he has youth on his side at 21. Spencer made his debut at 26 and both Phillips and Duncan were called up at 27. These players toiled for years in the minors but Montero was fast-tracked to majors similar to Derek Jeter. The eventual Yankee captain received his call-up in 1995 at the age of 20, but spent most the season in minors. He began 1996 as the Yankees’ Opening Day shortstop at 21 and the rest as you know is history.
Montero will always be linked to Jorge Posada, the man who Yankee fans hope he can emulate. He has a leg-up on Posada who wasn’t given full-time duty until the age of 26. As Posada’s career fades into the sunset, Montero is making a strong case to push Posada off the 2011 postseason roster. It would be an unfitting end to the career of a celebrated Yankee great but necessary if Montero continues his display a menacing power stroke.
A more intriguing comparison has been made to another slugging New York catcher whose address wasn’t in the Bronx but rather Queens. Scouts have likened Montero’s raw power and sub-average defense to a young Mike Piazza. At 6’4” and 225 lbs., Montero is even larger than Piazza and is projected to be a similar high average/high power hybrid hitter.
Putting up career numbers near Piazza or for that matter, all-time catchers Johnny Bench, Carlton Fisk or Yogi Berra would be outstanding but for the moment it is unclear whether he can cut it as a serviceable defender. What is clear is that he has legitimate big league power to all fields that will force him into the Yankees’ everyday lineup in 2012 either at catcher or designated hitter.
I could honestly see him mirroring that magnificent run of Spencer in 1998, but that’s where the similarities end.
Montero is young, high-rated and expected to go on to become an All-Star caliber batter for years to come. Piazza-like abilities might be a difficult level for any player to reach, but Montero is destined to accomplish greatness at the plate.
Yankee fans – what’s your immediate impression of Montero? Share your opinions below and send your tweets to @HartyLFC.