The loss of Montero, the evolution of Melky
Jesus Montero is out for the rest of the year, having broken the middle finger of his left hand on Saturday. If he’s out even the minimum expected, four weeks, that takes him right through the end of the Minor League season.
Before we mourn, let’s review: 48 games at Tampa, batting .356/.406/.583 with 15 doubles and eight home runs in 180 at-bats. Moving up to Trenton, Montero played in 44 games, batting .317/.370/.539 with 10 doubles and nine home runs in 167 at-bats, this despite being utterly fluxed by the big, cold, riverfront Thunder ballpark (try the crab fries!), where he hit just .232/.376/.354 vs. .400/.457/.718 on the road.
Total: .337/.389/.562. Age: 19. Moreno will turn 20 just after Thanksgiving.
The good news is this: Montero didn’t suffer a knee injury. He didn’t fracture a wrist, which could have affected his swing. He’s not out for six months, just six weeks, tops. The Yankees would have some options at that point, including a quick cup of coffee once rosters expand, and could still send the lad out to the Arizona Fall League or for other winter action with an eye towards prepping him for an extended look in next year’s Spring Training camp. Naturally, this assumes an uncomplicated recovery from the injury.
Montero may not be ready to be a big-league catcher, but if his bat is judged to play the Yankees would be mistaken to send him on an indefinite tour of the upper Minor Leagues waiting for his glove to mature. First, it may never be ready. Second, with Jorge Posada signed through 2011 and still playing well, there isn’t any urgency for him to catch. However, there may be a need for a solid bat of his ability by next spring. There should be room on the club for a young player to take some time at designated hitter while perhaps catching the odd game against less speedy opponents. This could not only get Montero’s bat in the lineup, but serve to lower the team payroll in the short term. Montero’s injury is disappointing, but it need not be a disaster.
I said it last week and I’ll say it again: the lad’s got good timing. If you could just go back and erase that injury at Texas on May 26, he might have had a perfect year. For more than a month after that he struggled to hit .200, and didn’t get hot again until Brett Gardner got hurt. Through July 22 he was hitting just .220/.278/.320 for the month. He hit a double in his sole at-bat on the 23rd and since then he’s been rolling, going 15-for-35 in 11 games overall, with five doubles, a triple, and two home runs. He’s also thrown in six walks and turndown service, including a mint placed just so on top of your pillow.
This is truly a stunning, heartwarming turn of events. Though only 24 (he’ll turn 25 on the 11th of this month), Cabrera had spent 2006 and 2007 playing every day but failing to show much with the bat. He’d hit a few balls in the gap, knock one out of the park every now and again, but not so often that you could say he had real power. He was only moderately patient, so even hitting .280 he didn’t get on base that much. He was a switch-hitter, but he couldn’t touch a lefty. Then it got worse, as he followed a torrid April, 2008 with a 100-game cold streak that got him sent to the Minors.
Coming into the season, there was no reason to view Cabrera as much more than a versatile outfield reserve, and given his 2008 performance, perhaps not even that. Even after another hot April and a solid May, it seemed likely that a cold snap would ensue. When it did, it was impossible to tell if it was due to the Texas injury or just Cabrera returning to form. It now appears that the injury was at least partially to blame, and whatever Cabrera does for the rest of the season, he’s not heading back to the dark depths of post-April 2008. He’s even hitting left-handers, something he’d never done with any consistency or authority before. That, more than anything else, suggests real change.
If Cabrera maintains his current .292/.355/.463 level of production, the Yankees have a very solid center fielder on their hands. The average Major League center fielder is batting .268/.337/.422. For once, the Yankees were patient with a young player (far more patient than your host, for once) and it seems to have paid off — and they had far less reason to be patient with Cabrera than with a host of predecessors who quickly headed out of town, Drabek, Buhner, et al. Let us hope the lesson sinks in — for everyone.