On the heels of a six-game losing streak and a 2-7 road trip, the Seattle Mariners shuffled their roster Thursday, optioning catcher Jesus Montero to their Class AAA farm club in Tacoma.
Montero has struggled offensively in 29 games with Seattle and the team has been concerned about his impatience at the plate. The 23-year-old is hitting just .208 with three home runs and nine RBI and has been splitting time with backup catcher Kelly Shoppach in recent weeks. Montero also has been a designated hitter. He has 72 hours to report to Tacoma.
“It had to be explained to him,” Zduriencik said prior to the Rainiers game at Cheney Stadium on Thursday night. “(Manager Eric Wedge) and I sat in there together and we explained that sometime you have to take step backward to take two steps forward. We appreciate his effort. He’s done an awful lot to try and become a catcher. He’s worked very hard at it.”
The Mariners have not yet announced who will replace Montero on the roster, but it appears they will call up defensive-minded catcher Jesus Sucre from Tacoma, not highly regarded prospect Mike Zunino, who’s also a Rainiers catcher.
Why Sucre and not Zunino, who’s been touted as the Mariners’ catcher of the future? After a torrid offensive start, Zunino has cooled off considerably against Class AAA pitching. He still needs time to mature and play every day. Forcing him into the big leagues before he is ready could do more harm than good at this point.
Sucre impressed the Mariners coaching staff this spring with his defensive abilities. He is hitting .302 with Tacoma, but has just 59 at-bats.
Montero is being sent to the minor leagues a little more than year after Seattle acquired him from the New York Yankees in a trade full of potential that hasn’t panned out for either side. The Yankees traded him and pitcher Hector Noesi to the Mariners for pitcher Michael Pineda and a minor leaguer.
Pineda, an All-Star as a Seattle rookie in 2011, has been injured and not pitched yet in the majors for the Yankees. He is currently pitching in extended spring training games and could be ready to start a minor league assignment soon.
Montero made a nice impression in a brief call-up with the Yankees in 2011, hitting .328 with four homers and 12 RBI, With Seattle in 2012, he hit .260 with 15 homers and 62 RBI in his first full season in the majors.
One of the top prospects in baseball a few years ago, Montero’s strength was supposed to be his offense and raw power to all fields. He was never seen as a great defensive catcher, but it was perceived that his hitting ability would offset his shortcomings in the field. That has not happened this year, and there were indications of offensive trouble ahead last season when his numbers included 99 strikeouts and just 21 walks to go along with a .298 on-base percentage and a .386 slugging percentage .
Named the Mariners’ starting catcher before spring training, Montero lost the job to Shoppach less than a month into the season. Montero has struggled badly at the plate, showing impatience in his batting approach. He is seeing just 3.39 pitches per at-bat. The league average is 3.85.
He has struck out 21 times in his 101 at-bats this season and walked just eight times. His on-base percentage (.264) and slugging percentage (.327) have slipped even lower than they were a year ago.
In Tacoma, Montero’s reclamation project likely will have him seeing time at first base and designated hitter. “He’s going to be playing a lot of first base,” Zduriencik said.
This isn’t likely to be a brief stint in the minors for Montero. Barring injury at the big-league level, he will be in Tacoma until he can figure things out offensively. Much of the work will need to be with pitch recognition, understanding the strike zone and developing an approach that doesn’t have him swinging at anything and everything.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.