Teams frequently are reluctant to carry top position prospects as reserves, reasoning that the players can better develop with everyday work in the minors.
The Yankees' Jesus Montero figures to be an exception for two reasons. He is a catcher. And he plays for a New York team.
"There is a lot of knowledge that a catcher has to absorb that you just won’t get at Triple A," Yankees general manager Brian Cashman said Saturday morning.
"If it’s the second week of April and he has only pinch-hit or started one game, I won’t consider it a lost week. There are a lot of things going on behind the scenes that he has never experienced before.
"He can watch, see how (starter Russell Martin) goes through it – pre-game, advance scouting meetings, all those things. When he gets in there in the future, he’ll be fully prepared, rather than just sink or swim.
"You can learn that way, too. But it’s harder in New York. There is a lot more attention. If a veteran starter gives up a game-deciding home run, the question is going to be, 'Do you agree with what the young catcher called?' It will be lights, camera, action.
"That doesn’t happen in other ballparks. And you’ve got to remember, this kid is only 21 years old."
Montero’s chances of breaking with the Yankees improved markedly Friday when the team learned that Francisco Cervelli, the incumbent backup, will wear a protective boot for at least four weeks due to a fractured left foot.
Martin, coming off minor surgery on his right knee, made his first Grapefruit League start Friday night. Cashman repeated that Martin will be the team’s starting catcher, calling him “a huge bounceback candidate."
The Yankees signed Martin, 28, to a one-year, $4 million free-agent contract in part because they could retain him in 2012 through arbitration, and in part to allow Montero to develop at his own pace.
Montero, 6-foot-4, 225 pounds, entered spring training with major questions about his defense. But manager Joe Girardi, a former catcher, has praised Montero’s work behind the plate this spring, as have several Yankees pitchers.
The turnaround actually began in the second half of last season. Montero, at age 20, batted .351/.396/.684 in 44 games after the All-Star break at Triple A. The improvement in his defense followed.
"From June on, he took a quantum leap,” Cashman said. “When his bat came around, his catching did, too. He was lights out – lights out. He always had a great work ethic. Now people are getting a chance to see it and realize it.”
— Ken Rosenthal