The international free agent market opened yesterday with a bang, with two 16-year old Latin Americans signing for huge bonuses. The Yankees signed catcher Gary Sanchez for a $3 million bonus, and the Cardinals, not to be outdone, spent $3.1 million on outfielder Wagner Mateo, a record amount for a Dominican position player. Signing kids to big bonus money involves a fair share of risk, as one doesn’t know fully what type of player or even person a 16-year old will grow up to be. A team has to feel fairly confident about it’s ability to scout and forecast a player’s potential, but these players still sort of feel like expensive lottery tickets.
Wily Mo Pena signed for what was once a record $2.44 million, and he had only two seasons in which his WAR was in the positive, and neither seasons were with the team that signed him. Joel Guzman also received a huge bonuses, and he has a whopping 62 big league plate appearances to his credit. Those are a couple of the bad stories, but there is one story of a bonus baby that currently is developing into a really good one, and that is Jesus Montero’s.
Signed for a $1.6 million bonus by the Yankees, scouts have raved about Montero’s future power potential, some going far as to grade his power an “8” on the 2-8 scouting scale. The knock was on his body, which some said he looked like Travis Hafner. (He’s currently listed at 6-4, 225). At 16-years old. I guess when you are projected to hit like vintage Travis Hafner, no one seems to mind.
Montero is just 19-years old and is currently dominating the minors. After posting a .326/.376/.491 line in Single-A ball, Montero started his season in the High-A Florida State League, a notoriously friendly league to pitching. In over a little 200 plate appearances, Montero was a man among boys, leading the league with a .444 wOBA. A promotion to Double-A has not slowed him, in 86 plate appearances Montero has a superb .325/.395/.571 line. Between Tampa and Trenton, he has just an 11.6% strikeout rate, which is outstanding for a young power hitter. His walk rate is 8%, but he should grow more patient at the plate with experience and maturity.
Montero just been playing like an absolute man child, and at this pace it’s not inconceivable that he’s ready for a big league job at 21-years old. But if there is hole in his game, it definitely on his defense. As a catcher, the young Venezuelan has allowed 74 stolen bases in the 43 games he’s caught this season, and has thrown out just 15 would be base-stealers.
A move to 1B or even DH could be in order, but we know the Yankees are pretty historically indifferent to defense. Maybe the Yankees think he’s their mini-Piazza. Hitting the way he has at a young age, maybe it’s not completely preposterous to believe so.