Jesus Montero, a catcher, is considered the top position-player prospect...

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

When it became apparent that Gustavo Molina would come out of spring training as Russell Martin's backup, Joe Girardi publicly stated what everyone else saw.

Top prospect Jesus Montero simply did not handle the pressure.

"The first time you have an opportunity to win a job in the big leagues, I think for the most part, almost everyone's going to put some pressure on themselves," Girardi said March 22 in Sarasota, Fla. "Very seldom do you see a guy not."

It was hardly a rebuke, more a statement of fact.

Most figured Montero would win the backup job after Francisco Cervelli got hurt. But as one opposition scout who saw Montero play said Thursday: "I thought he pressed like crazy in spring training."

But look who has come out of the gate red-hot for Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre.

Montero, 21, among the organization's top trade chips, hit .250 with no homers and just two RBIs in spring training. But he entered Thursday night's game 13-for-29 (.448), having recorded at least one hit in each of the six games Scranton has played. He had three hits in three of his last five games.

Girardi, a former catcher who had to give Montero the news at the end of spring training that he would be starting the season in Scranton, couldn't be happier with the young catcher's start.

"It's good because he scuffled in spring training offensively," Girardi said in his office Wednesday. "He went down and got some minor-league at-bats and seemed to crush the ball. And that can have something to do with maybe he felt more relaxed. But it's good to see him get off to a good start. That's what we want to see."

The Yankees didn't see what they had hoped in spring training after Cervelli went down with a fractured left foot the first week of March. Defense had always been a concern with Montero, and after some early progress in that area, he clearly regressed. Hot start for Scranton aside, that aspect remains a question.

"He's a below-average catcher for me," the scout said. "But if he hits a ton, I'll live with it."

While not at all taken with Montero's defense -- "He's slow moving behind the plate, and I'm hard-pressed to think he's going to get faster" -- the scout said he liked some of what he saw from the catcher on offense despite the poor production.

"I thought for a power hitter, he made consistent contact and I thought he made adjustments," the scout said. "If he saw a curveball with the first pitch, he might buckle, but if the pitcher threw another one, he'd make solid contact. He hung in there. When a guy makes that kind of adjustment, I'm impressed with that."

Girardi recalled telling Montero that he wouldn't be starting the season in the Bronx.

"I think you can see disappointment in anyone's face when you send them down, no matter who it is," Girardi said. "But you sensed that he knew what he had to do to get back. He knew what he had to go work on. He knew that he didn't perform at his best level in spring training, but that wasn't something that was going to keep him from making the big leagues."

Girardi doesn't make too much of early-season results for his own players, let alone minor-leaguers, but based on Montero's performance in spring training, he thinks this start is critical.

"I think it was important for him, I do," Girardi said. "I think it was important for him to get off to a good start."