Montero brings new attitude -- and new look -- to Mariners camp
Former top prospect sheds weight, aims to put off-field issues behind him in '15
PEORIA, Ariz. -- For Jesus Montero, it's more than just about losing weight. The missing 40-plus pounds on his body are a shocking visual notice of a rigid offseason work program that has him looking like a new man in Mariners camp.
But the Mariners need more than just a physical transformation from the former top catching prospect who now is fighting for a job as a backup first baseman. They want Montero to shed a mistake-prone past, commit himself to being a quality person as well as player, and start fresh after two disappointing seasons that included a pair of lengthy suspensions.
Time will tell, but the 25-year-old Montero sounded like a new man on a mission Friday as he spoke to reporters and apologized for his mistakes, thanked everyone involved for helping him turn things around and vowed to do whatever he could to help the Mariners win.
Montero spent every day of the offseason working out at the Peoria facility with trainer James Clifford, just "doing my work, being honest, being in love with baseball."
He was one of baseball's top prospects when acquired from the Yankees in the Michael Pineda trade in 2012 and hit .260 with 15 home runs and 62 RBIs in 135 games that year as a rookie. But Montero's career got off track the following season when he struggled as Seattle's starting catcher. He was sent to the Minors and wound up getting hurt and then suspended in the Biogenesis scandal.
The Mariners hoped he would come back strong last year, but instead he showed up to camp overweight, spent most of the season in Triple-A Tacoma and was suspended by the team for the final month after getting into a shouting match with former Mariners scout Butch Baccala during an injury rehab stint with Class-A Everett.
General manager Jack Zduriencik met with Montero at that time and told him his career was at a crossroads. The rest has been in Montero's hands and the results have been impressive.
"I'm proud of him and what he's done," Zduriencik said. "At the end, it's about him. He deserves the credit. He put the time in and was presented an opportunity and, at least at this point in time, he's really taken advantage of it. He looks great, he looks like a first baseman down there."
The Mariners have Logan Morrison returning at first base and signed free-agent slugger Nelson Cruz to fill the designated hitter spot, so there's no obvious role for Montero at this time. But after seemingly losing his place in the organization last year, he's now back in the conversation.
After his off-field issues, just focusing on baseball is a welcomed change. Montero said once he committed to the workout program last fall, everything fell into place.
"It wasn't hard because I was in love," he said. "I turned the page. I turned everything to the Mariners. I came here to do whatever they wanted me to do. I put all my love, all my sweat, every second, every minute, every hour, spending time here with the organization, working to get better every single day."
Montero says the incident in Boise, Idaho, when he lost his temper and went after Baccala in the stands wound up being a turning point. He apologized to Baccala and the Boise fans, saying "that was a bad thought I had in my mind at that moment. That wasn't me. I'm not that person. I feel bad for that. It was something that got out of control."
Baccala was also suspended and has since been let go by the Mariners. Montero's future remains to be seen, but he appears to have new life on and off the field.
"I have more confidence in first base, more confidence just walking and moving around," he said. "More confidence around the players and the organization. It's way better to be feeling like this. To come here every day and work hard is the best feeling ever. At the end, I just want to win."
Montero said an improved diet helped immensely and he feels just as strong as before, even with the lower weight, a fact borne out by an impressive batting practice session on Friday.
Maintaining that weight and discipline will be the challenge now, but Montero has motivation close to home in the form of 10-month-old daughter Loren.
"My daughter was the most impact in my life," Montero said. "I wanted her to look at me like an example, not like a quitter or something. I wanted something good for her and that's what I was thinking the whole time. I want to give her something good, too, when she grows up."