Jesus Montero, top New York Yankees prospect and Baseball America’s 2011 third best prospect in all of MLB, was dealt Friday night to the Seattle Mariners alongside pitcher Hector Noesi for young stud Michael Pineda and Low-A prospect Jose Campos. At first glance, this deal works well for both teams; the Mariners get hitting and an arm to replace Pineda, and the Yankees get the pitching they need while not losing depth at the catcher position due to the current surplus in the minor leagues. Yet, let’s diverge a little bit more into the stats of each player.
First and foremost, Jesus Montero is the real deal when it comes to his power. Rated an 80 on the 20-80 scale, Montero played 18 games for the Yankees in 2011, banging out four home runs, 12 RBI and hitting .328. Montero also recorded a Weighted On-Base Average (wOBA) of .421 and was worth over half a win. In Bill James 2012 projections, he projected for Montero to hit 26 home runs, notch 83 RBI while hitting .289. Montero is also projected to register a wOBA of .363 on the year.
Initial concerns in Seattle may be on where Montero would play. As many if us know, although Montero is listed as a catcher, he may be better off as a DH as his defensive skills are not up to par with the average major league catcher. It would not surprise me if the Mariners decided to plug Montero into Triple-A early on in the season to make sure he gets the proper feel as a catcher. It feels like the proper move for the Mariners to make as a 22 year old full time DH is not very desirable, and the fact that first base is blocked by Justin Smoak. Furthermore, some may question how his power may be affected by transitioning from one of the best hitter’s parks to a prime pitcher’s park.
On the flip side, Michael Pineda was rated as the Mariners second best prospect prior to the 2011 season, and the sixteenth best in all of baseball. Pineda had a stellar 2011, as he went 9-10 while striking out 9.11 hitters per nine innings, and registered an xFIP of 3.53. Pineda also had the fourth best velocity wise fastball in all of baseball, clocking in at 94.7 MPH. In 2012, Bill James projected Pineda to go 11-8, while striking out an astounding 9.41 batters per nine innings, and also recording an FIP of 3.19 (xFIP is not a projected stat).
Negative thoughts about Pineda will likely include his fly ball rate in such a homer happy park. Pineda drew only 36.3 percent ground balls last season in pitcher’s haven Safeco Field, while also allowing 0.95 HR/9. You may see this as something that will be worked on throughout spring training, as a home run rate of one per nine innings in a massive pitchers park will almost surely not succeed in Yankee Stadium.
When looking at the minor parts of this trade, Campos is a 19 year-old minor league arm who has two years of experience in the Mariners system, coming at rookie league and Low-A. Campos pitched to FIP’s of 2.29 and 2.38 while striking out over nine batters for each season, respectively. Noesi pitched in 30 games with the big club last year, registering an xFIP of 4.02, mostly coming out of the bullpen.
After observing all the details, including the additional pieces of the trade, this feels like a win for the Yankees, but also a solid deal for the Mariners. The Yankees get the pitching they need and keep their depth at the catcher position, while the Mariners get a much-needed bat to power their offense. Yet, this is contingent upon Pineda pitching at least to the statistics of 2011, and Montero living up to his hype. If Pineda has trouble lowering his fly ball rate, or Montero’s power disappears at Safeco, it will be easy to determine a clear winner for this deal.