PEORIA, Ariz. — Jesus Montero has become the forgotten prospect. Once considered part of the foundation of future success, he’s now a reclamation project.
To many around baseball, he’s inching closer to becoming yet another cautionary tale of a talented player filled with potential who is unaware he’s squandering it.
It’s left the Mariners questioning his desire to be something more than he already is as a player. And until he proves to them otherwise, he won’t be considered part of their immediate future or beyond.
“It’s up to him,” Mariners general manager Jack Zduriencik said. “I have zero expectations for Jesus Montero. Any expectations I had are gone.”
The Mariners had nothing but expectations for Montero when they acquired him before the 2012 season from the New York Yankees. He was supposed to be their middle of the order hitter of the future — a right-hand bat with power.
He gave them a glimmer of hope that season, hitting .260 with 15 homers and 62 RBI in 135 games.
It seemed to be decent start to a big-league career.
But it all crashed in 2013.
He was given the starting catching job well before the season. He lost that starting status two weeks into the season and began splitting time with backup Kelly Shoppach. On May 23, he was optioned to Class AAA after hitting .208 (12 for 101) with three homers and nine RBI in 29 games.
The Mariners started the process of converting him to first base. He injured his knee in a game on May 29, requiring surgery on June 5. He returned in mid-July and played 12 games for Tacoma before accepting a season-ending suspension for being linked to performance-enhancing drugs in the Biogenesis scandal.
It was a full year of disappointment.
It should have been a seminal offseason for Montero. The disappointment of 2013 should have offered the ultimate motivation. Most players would’ve used the offseason to prepare like they’ve never prepared before and come to camp ready to atone for the past failures.
Instead, Montero came in heavier than ever. He even admitted it, dropping the regrettable comment: “After winter ball, all I did was eat.”
After each season, players meet with training and medical staff to set up their offseason. Each player is given a target weight he is expected to come in at next spring. According to sources, Montero has never once met that target weight since joining the Mariners. This year he came in 40 pounds over.
“We are disappointed in how he came in physically,” Zduriencik said bluntly.
That disinterest in conditioning in the offseason didn’t do much to change the minds of people who have been skeptical of Montero’s work ethic. It certainly didn’t inspire Zduriencik, who was clearly unhappy with the situation and is done defending Montero.
“He’s got a ton to prove,” Zduriencik said. “It’s all on him.”
But the fear within in the organization is that theMariners seem to want it more than Montero does.
“I can’t want it for him,” manager Lloyd McClendon said. “At some point, the light has to come on for all of us. When I talked with him, I told him he’s at a crossroads. It’s time to put up or shut up.”
Montero didn’t really offer any excuses or reasons as to why he came into camp overweight, but said the awful 2013 season and the suspension lingered in his mind.
“I feel comfortable with my weight,” he said. “But they want me to lose some weight. Whatever they want, I’m here for the opportunity.”
It’s not an opportunity to make the team as much as an opportunity to change people’s perceptions. The odds of Montero making the 25-man roster are slim.
“We can’t give it to him,” Zduriencik said. “And it’s not going to be given to him.”
Montero said he comes in every morning for extra cardio work and has been putting in extra work with infield coach Chris Woodward at first base. McClendon credited Montero for doing everything they’ve asked thus far. But that might not be enough.
“It’s all going to be up to him,” McClendon said.
“I’m not counting on him,” Zduriencik said. “I’m not expecting anything. Whatever he does, he’s got to get our attention — that’s how I’m looking at it. We haven’t discarded him at all. But he’s got to prove it to us. We’ve got players here that want to be big-league players and want to be big-league players for a long time. In his case, he’s still got that to prove yet. And I don’t think he’s done that. He hasn’t taken that next step where he’s got everyone’s attention. He can, because the ability is there to do that.”
And if not?
“In the end, it is Jesus’ life,” Zduriencik said. “It’s Jesus who has to make a call on this. We’ll be there to assist any of these players, him included. But he will not be given anything. It’s an uphill climb for him.
“He has the ability to get over the hump, and he should. But if he doesn’t, then shame on Jesus.”