I just swung a deal this week in a keeper league, trading for Mariners catcher/DH Jesus Montero. Montero had been a top Yankee prospect for what seemed like forever, constantly mentioned in trade talks when it seemed the Yanks were about to swing another deal for an expensive star. His nominal position has always been "hitter", as no one believed he had the defensive chops to stick as a major league catcher. While he seemed destined to haunt that lovely "Util" spot for his whole career, that hardly mattered, since Montero was a highly trained master in the art of mashing a baseball.
Montero's bat always projected to hold up at any position, whether that be first base or DH, and anybody who watched him shoot opposite field home runs over the right field fence in his late-season stint with the Yankees last season had reason to be ecstatic. In the offseason, he was traded to the Mariners, but even the switch to the tougher hitter's park couldn't dampen the spirits of Montero's fantasy owners. He was a hitting savant who would be a mainstay among the AL batting leaderboards in no time. Conservative projections had him at a cool .300/.350/.450 line.
Well, Safeco Field saw Montero coming and bellowed its loudest, most guttural Jabba the Hutt laugh and squashed his immediate dreams of stardom. Montero has struggled badly in the first half of this, his first full big league season. So far, he's hit an uninspiring .245/.281/.376, and those who believed that Safeco's cavernous power alleys would stunt his development look to be absolutely right. So far this season, he's hit a miserable .214/.267/.335 at home.
Luckily, it isn't all bad for the 22-year-old. He's picked it up substantially in the second half, hitting .309/.374/.432 since the stars returned from Kansas City. He's coming off of his best month, as he OPSed .818 in August. Plus, at the fresh-faced age of 22, some struggles can be expected as he adjusts to tougher major league pitching. We can't all be Mike Trout. Oh, wait....Trout struggled horribly also in his first go-round in the majors, so take that as some encouragement if you're waiting for Montero to blossom.
If you own Montero and want to unleash the superstar in him, though, start him against left-handed starters on the road. Despite his overall struggles, he has destroyed lefties to the tune of .359/.406/.573 this year, and his line away from Safeco is .302/.337/.440 (further supporting the argument that the Mariners' ballpark is hurting their young players). To wit, against Baltimore's lefty starter Zach Britton tonight, he went 3-4 with a walk before being pulled for a pinch runner. While the lefty-mashing may give some the fear that he'll just turn into a platoon DH, it only hints at what could be if (when?) he starts to hit right-handers. For now, though, watch his matchups like a hawk, because he's a must-start against lefties.
If you're wondering what I gave up to get Montero, it was Diamondbacks starter Wade Miley, straight up. I lead that particular league in innings (and wins) and have a pretty deep pitching staff, and Miley is a young pitcher with a decent amount of trade value in a keeper league. Feel free to hate in the comments section.
After the jump, a couple of catchers unexpectedly having a season for the ages.
--A.J. Pierzynski has lived his baseball life as two things: a world class asshat and a lower-tier fantasy option at catcher. His abrasive antics have led many fans to dub him "D.B. Pierzynski" (I'll leave you to figure out what that stands for)*, while fantasy fans could set their watch to his inevitable .280/.310/.420 line with somewhere around ten home runs and overall reasonable production for a catcher. Every year, he's been a perfectly yawntastic option for owners who failed to nab any of the stars at the position.
(*If you are wondering why Giants fans hate A.J. with a passion, watch this famous video, picture the football as Pierzynski's knee, and Hans Moleman as former Giants trainer Stan Conte. Yes, that happened.)
This season, at the age of 35, Pierzynski has been a fantasy star. Before going homerless in tonight's game, he had cranked out home runs in five straight games, tying a White Sox franchise record. He now has 21 on the year, obliterating his career-high of 18 set back in 2005. He now leads all major league catchers in home runs. If you predicted that before the season, dub thyself Nostradamus.
This whole thing screams one-year power surge, of course. Few players Pierzynski's age see power spikes that stay for good. Several of the players on Pierzynski's most comparable list (like Terry Kennedy, Terry Steinbach, Earl Battey, etc.) had single year home run totals way out of line with their career norms. It's one of those crazy anomalies that will likely iron itself out for next season, but if you're an owner and Pierzynski's surprise season is leading you to a title, you'd better join his exceedingly rare fan base immediately.
--For your What The Hell? stat of the day, take Yadier Molina's eleven stolen bases. Yes, a member of the glacially-slow Molina family actually has reached double digit stolen base totals. As shocking as it may seem for a guy who might be lapped in a race by an obese banana slug, his eleven steals are more than double the next-highest total for a catcher. You'd think that opposing catchers would be embarrassed to show their faces if they couldn't gun down slow Yadi, but he's actually come close to the double digit mark before, with nine in 2009.
Combine the steals with the fact that Molina is having, by far, his best season with the bat, and you've got yourself perhaps the best fantasy catcher in 2012, across the board. That's quite an accomplishment for a player who started out his baseball career as a crappier-hitting version of his brother Jose.