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Yankees giving Montero time to grow

Yanks giving Montero time to grow

NEW YORK -- Considered the possible heir apparent to catcher Jorge Posada, 18-year-old Jesus Montero's time in Spring Training with the Yankees was to be brief, but that didn't mean it couldn't be eventful.

As general manager Brian Cashman recalled before the XM All-Star Futures Game on Sunday, it was only the Yankees' first exhibition game of the spring, and already Montero -- the organization's top catching prospect -- had the brass buzzing, cracking an opposite-field home run off veteran big leaguer Vic Darensbourg.

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"That was a great organizational moment, because here's a kid who barely just turned [18], and this is his first big league camp," Cashman said. "We look forward to more things like that."

Montero was selected to the Futures Game after batting .300 with nine home runs and 52 RBIs in 86 games for Class A Charleston of the South Atlantic League. Playing for the World Team, he entered in the sixth inning as a defensive replacement and went 1-for-2 in a 3-0 victory over the U.S. Team.

"This is another step in the ladder for him," Cashman said. "He should enjoy it. He's earned it -- he deserves it. For any player who gets a chance to play in a big league ballpark, especially Yankee Stadium, it serves as further motivation -- not that you need it."

Cashman estimates that Montero has already improved "by 50 percent" defensively since he started his progression, and at least a small portion of that should be credited to Posada.

As Montero said on Sunday, Posada took the young catcher aside during Spring Training and spoke about a variety of topics, including how to be a leader on the field and in the clubhouse, and the importance of taking charge of a game and a pitching staff.

"I want to thank the good Lord for putting Jorge Posada in front of me, to have the opportunity to speak to him," Montero said through an interpreter, "because Jorge Posada has been a guy who has been in the big leagues for a long time."

Cashman said that the meeting was completely taken upon by Posada and not with any spurring from the front office.

"I think Jorgie was telling him, 'Hey, buddy, the next four years? You can forget it,'" Cashman said, laughing.

Owning top-of-the-line raw power and good bat speed, the 6-foot-4, 225-pound Montero already possesses a Major League build, prompting the Yankees to wonder if he will eventually outgrow the catching position.

For now, Cashman said the Yankees are content with Montero's progress behind the plate, as he has developed his blocking and throwing, as well as the attitude necessary to fill the role. Montero may project better as a first baseman, designated hitter or outfielder in the future, but the Yankees will allow him to proceed as a catcher until that time comes.

"He's a big-time power guy with power to all fields, and the bat is what's going to take him to the highest level," Cashman said. "Catching is something that he's doing right now and we believe he can continue to do. But it's certainly possible that at age 19, he could grow out of that position. I can't rule that out."

For his part, Montero said that he believes he is "a couple of years" away from the Major Leagues, though it obviously is not his decision when or if he gets called up. Should that day come, Montero said he would like it to be as a catcher.

"[I like] being the leader, being in charge, being able to run a pitching staff," Montero said. "I like to be one of the guys who runs the game."

Montero was a touted international free agent out of Venezuela in 2006, and as one of the premier power bats on the market, he drew interest from numerous Major League organizations. Montero said the Red Sox, A's, Mariners and Rangers were involved, but the Yankees won out, inking the catcher with a $1.6 million signing bonus.

"There were a lot of organizations in the mix, but it didn't matter, because [Montero] wanted to be a Yankee," Cashman said. "The Yankees are the best organization in the world."

While Cashman called it "money well spent," he tries to be careful about not overinflating evaluations of prospects, even though Montero seems to be passing his first full-season test after breaking in with the Gulf Coast Yankees in 2007.

"He's got big juice in that bat -- he's a big power guy," Cashman said. "He's a man-child and he works extremely hard, but he's got a lot of work to do. I can talk all the glowing things about him, but he's in the South Atlantic League, which is far from the Bronx."

As Cashman is fond of saying, prospects are suspects and "potential means that they haven't done it yet."

"We think he's one of the young premier prospects in the game, but he's got a lot of work to do to accomplish his dream," Cashman said. "His dream isn't to sign a pro contract, his dream is to be a frontline Major League player on an everyday basis. He's got a lot of work to do to get there, and we look forward to working with him."

Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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