The Long Road Back For Jesus Montero

Back when the New York Yankees and Seattle Mariners executed the trade in 2012 that sent pitcher Michael Pineda to New York for, at the time, catcher and top prospect Jesus Montero along with pitcher Hector Noesi, both players were being talked about as big time pieces for their new respective clubs. Pineda was just coming off of an All Star appearance in his first year, and Montero was just about to flourish into a star at the Major League level. Noesi, well, it didn’t work out so well for him.

The Mariners badly needed a bat in their order and the Yankees needed a young pitcher, making the trade seem of equal value at the time. Nobody thought they were getting fleeced. Montero was coming off of a season in which he got called up to the Majors towards the end of the 2011 season and in 18 games hit .328 with four home runs and 28 RBIs. There was no doubt about his bat, but there was a bit of doubt about whether he could catch, but having that type of bat in the lineup was going to do wonders for a Mariners offense that was just brutal to watch (3.43 runs/game).

Once Montero got to Seattle, it was a different story.

The first season in a Mariners uniform seemed like a disappointment just because of the hype coming in with Montero. He hit .260 with just 15 homers and had an OPS of .685. Those numbers are significantly less than his numbers in a short stint with the Yankees and Mariners fans were thinking, “did we just screw this up again?”

The Mariners have a history of making some questionable trades. Look no farther than the Erik Bedard for Adam Jones deal. After a disappointing first season for Montero, people were definitely questioning this one and wondering if the highly touted hitter could turn it around.

Then 2013, it went downhill pretty quick. He played just 29 games because of a torn meniscus while catching on May 13th, 2013, and missed a lot of the season. Following that injury, Montero was suspended for 50 games because of his role in the Biogenesis scandal.

In addition, he was starting to lose the grasp on the Mariners catching spot when they called up top pick Mike Zunino, and that was when he started his transition to being a first baseman.

This seemed to be rock bottom, but it was nothing compared to what was coming next.

After that disappointment, when he came to Spring Training in 2014, he was 40 pounds overweight. After the Biogenesis scandal, lots of players were trying to make amends for what they supposedly did, but Montero sure wasn’t succeeding at that.

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It was a complete disappointment and it was looking like his career was coming to a crashing end.

“We are disappointed in how he came in physically,” Mariners GM Jack Zduriencik said in 2013. “I have zero expectations for Jesus Montero. Any expectations I had are gone.”

These were quite the harsh words for Montero from the GM, but he had really let a lot of people down. He had a chance to rewrite some of the wrongs, but those went completely out the door when he showed up like he did in 2014.

Montero told reporters during Spring Training, “After winter ball, all I did was eat.”

To begin that season, the Mariners sent him to AAA Tacoma and he eventually did get the call to the big leagues, but appeared in just six games with one home run. Montero did hit .286 in AAA, but the Mariners didn’t trade for him to produce at the Minor League level, obviously. At the same time, Michael Pineda was becoming a star for the Yankees and the Mariners were once again the laughing stock of another trade.

It wasn’t a good season for Montero once again and it even ended with him being suspended for the month of September after an altercation with a scout during a rehab assignment for Single-A Everett. After this it seemed as if this was going to be the end for Jesus Montero, but after all of these issues, he was out to prove people wrong and get back to where he was to start his career.

Montero worked harder than he had ever worked in his career to get back into playing shape and he rededicated himself to baseball after some pretty dark days during his career.

Journeyman catcher John Baker who was with the Mariners organization during Spring Training and for a little bit of this season in AAA Tacoma before he was cut, hosted a Periscope talk where he talked about Montero’s re-dedication to baseball and what he did coming in to Spring Training in 2015.

One thing that stuck out was when he explained how Montero totally and completely improved his lifestyle and rejuvenated his career in the process. He included a story about Montero being at the Peoria Sports Complex, the Mariners Spring Training home, on Christmas Eve and Day and not missing a workout at all.

He came into camp 40 pounds less than 2014, and was in fantastic shape ready to make a mark and redeem himself from the mistakes that plagued his 2013 season.

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Ryan Divish, Mariners beat reporter for the Seattle Times, said he “didn’t even recognize him” because of the amazing shape he was in.

All of that hard work definitely looked to have paid off after posting some incredible numbers in AAA for the Tacoma Rainiers. He led the PCL in average, hitting .332, and also in RBI with 68. Those numbers were good enough for him to finally get the call up to the big league club and that is a complete 360 from where he was a few seasons ago.

“It means a lot. It means hard work pays off,” Montero told the media after the call up. “It was hard, but I’m happy to be here. I just want to have fun up here too.”

Well, the hard work sure did pay off and it is refreshing, a bit, to see something like this happen to a player that saw the lowest of lows in the game of baseball. It sure has been a long road back, but Montero put in the work to get back to the Majors.

While he may not be the same player the Mariners traded for back in 2012, he has rededicated himself to baseball and you just have to feel good for a guy like Jesus Montero who saw so much go wrong. Who knows, maybe he’ll be the answer to Seattle’s offensive woes.

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