Prize hitter Montero sits in slump

Jesus Montero, a catcher, is considered the top

Jesus Montero, a catcher, is considered the top position-player prospect in the Yankees' minor-league system. (Feb. 19, 2010) Photo Credit: AP

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SYRACUSE -- These days, Jesus Montero has the swagger but not the smile. The Yankees' prized prospect is sitting, not hitting. Presumably, both conditions are temporary.

"I need to play more. I need to catch more. I need to hit more," a reserved Montero told Newsday before Sunday's Scranton/Wilkes-Barre game against the Syracuse Chiefs, the second in a row in which Montero did not start. "That will make me better and make me get to the big leagues faster."

Just exactly when the 21-year-old catcher arrives in the Bronx is the subject of much speculation. There were tweeted rumors about his immediate call-up over the weekend after his name was not in the lineup Saturday. But he did not distinguish himself in spring training when it appeared the Yankees' backup catching job was his to lose. "I'm fine. I'm happy here," he said. "If I stayed in the big leagues, I wasn't going to play every single day. For me, it's better to be here."

Montero is currently in an 0-for-8 skid with three strikeouts that dropped his average to a still-respectable .289. However, he has only four home runs, a .408 slugging percentage and 22 RBIs in 201 at-bats.

"He's pressed a bit lately, trying to hit home runs," batting coach Butch Wynegar said. "That's the last thing I want him to do."

Last season, when Montero was the youngest player in Triple-A, he also started slowly, but finished strong with 21 homers, 75 RBIs and a .517 slugging percentage.

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"When he got hot last year, he got back to a right-centerfield approach," Wynegar said. "He didn't try to pull the ball."

Montero insisted he is "trying to hit the ball to rightfield every time. That's the way I like to hit. I'll just keep doing it and I know something good is going to happen. I just don't know when. I can't say if I'm going to hit 30 home runs. But I'm working real hard in the cage."

He has 15 multihit games this season and has caught two-thirds of the team's games. But he didn't appear pleased to sit for a second straight game Sunday afternoon. "The manager decides. I've been catching a lot of games," said Montero, who missed four games last week with an eye infection. "Maybe he's trying to give the other catchers some work."

Wynegar agrees with scouts that have rated Montero among the best hitting prospects in all of minor-league baseball.

"There are no doubts about his tools. But he's such a good hitter that he sometimes takes hitting for granted," Wynegar said. "He's so confident in his ability that, mentally, sometimes he wavers a bit. A part of me thinks he's a little bored here. He thinks he's just passing through. But he still doesn't understand how tough it is at the big-league level, especially the mental adjustments."

Montero sidestepped the issue when asked if he'd be disappointed if he didn't reach the big leagues this season.

"I don't want to say anything about that," he replied. "I just want to do my job here and help this team win. I'm working on my body and trying to get better in my catching and my offense."

Wynegar, a former big-league catcher, stressed patience. "Even if he has to spend all year here, 22 is still pretty young to be in the majors," he said. "He's still a little immature. He has to grow up a little bit. But the tools are there. Monty is going to be as good as he wants to be. If he wants to be a monster, he'll be a monster."

As soon as he starts mashing.

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