Seattle Mariners' Jesus Montero Conundrum

By Thom Tsang
Steven Bisig-USA TODAY Sports

What’s wrong with Jesus Montero?

That’s what the Seattle Mariners are having to ask themselves these days. Long thought to be an all-bat top prospect destined for the DH spot, the 23-year-old has done anything but make progress from his 15-homer, 62-RBI 2012, his first full season in the bigs.

Forget about him being a middle-of-the-order bat for the M’s for now. Even while being slotted near the very bottom of the order, Montero is barely staying above the Mendoza line with a .203/.250/.324 triple-slash over his first 80 PA.

If it weren’t for the fact that top catching prospect Mike Zunino has slowed drastically after a blazing first week in Triple-A, the Mariners might have already made a relatively simple decision.

Instead, it was more of the same for Seattle on Sunday, with Montero going 1-for-4 with a ground ball single and whiffing twice in the team’s 10-2 loss to the Toronto Blue Jays. Besides the sub-par defense that he offers (three passed balls in 18 starts, zero base-stealers thrown out from 15 attempts), the team’s prized acquisition from the Michael Pineda trade is falling well behind Kelly Shoppach (.829 OPS) is offensive production.

In fact, you could even say that this is a player who doesn’t look like he belongs in the big leagues right now.

But what happened? Well, as is often the case with these types of issues, luck is a factor, and Montero’s career-low (minors or otherwise) .228 BABIP is certainly not something being boosted by the baseball gods, even if he’s also doing his fair share of not helping his own cause on batted balls.

For the first time in his young MLB career, the former top prospect is hitting more fly balls than he is ground balls (0.88 GB/FB). The problem is, he’s also not hitting the ball with any kind of authority (career-low 16.9 percent line drive rate), which means those fly balls have a much better chance of turning into outs.

There could be something mechanical that is causing him to lift the ball, as his 4.3 percent infield hits rate has remained relatively steady from last season. Compounding things is also the fact that he’s swinging and missing more than ever at 12.3 percent, and is making less contact (74.4 percent to 79.7 percent in 2012).

Now, you will note that the plate discipline profile is about where it was during his first 18-game cup of tea with the New York Yankees back in 2011, but that was a bit of the opposite case of what’s happening now in terms of both luck and hitting with authority, as he parlayed a very good 27.3 percent line drive rate into an unsustainable .400 BABIP.

That said, if there is something mechanical, do the Mariners send him to the minors to work on his swing? What would be the point? Can they trade him? That seems a little early, too.

With Zunino in the minors waiting to take the reins behind the plate and an established hitter with Kendrys Morales at DH, the team’s options for their former can’t-miss prospect does not seem to lead to a whole lot of favorable ends, regardless of the route they choose.

Still, whichever road it may be, Montero will need to quickly turn things around, or he’ll soon be an odd man out on the team that he was supposed to provide the bulk of the offensive punch for.

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