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Montero will have to prove himself

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- While the Mariners are searching for right-handed hitters to balance out their lefty-heavy lineup, young Jesus Montero doesn't figure prominently in the plans for the upcoming season.

General manager Jack Zduriencik said Tuesday that the former catcher remains an interesting prospect, but the Mariners can't expect him to be the answer to any of their needs after a difficult 2013 season during which he was transitioned to first base in the Minor Leagues and then was hit with a 50-game suspension in the Biogenesis case.

"If he [makes the team], great," Zduriencik said. "Great for Jesus Montero, great for this organization. But at this time, if you are bringing him in here and counting on him, I think that's a little too risky at this point."

Montero hit .293 with one home run and 13 RBIs in 21 games in the Venezuelan Winter League, but he hasn't played since Nov. 10 after cutting his hand in a car accident. He'll come to Spring Training with a chance to show what he can do at first base and whether he's regained his hitting stroke after batting just .208 with three homers and nine RBIs in 29 games for Seattle before being sent down in 2013.

Zduriencik feels Biogenesis situation and looming suspension might have played into Montero's struggles after he'd hit .260 with 15 homers and 62 RBIs as a rookie in 2012.

"We all think Jesus is a very talented hitter," Zduriencik said. "We saw a lot of that the first year he was with us. Last year was very disappointing. The effect of what he was going through not only physically, but also the things that that were happening to him off the field may have had a huge effect on his performance mentally, which affected his performance on the field and then the injuries he had.

"You know he's a talented player, but he does have [Minor League] options, he's switching positions and I think at this moment in time you can't necessarily count on him. I'm not saying he won't come in and be ready to roll and all of the sudden you are looking at the Jesus Montero you thought you acquired, but I think you'd be foolish to say you are counting on this guy. He's been through too much the last year and he has too much to prove to all of us."

Lloyd McClendon said he hadn't yet spoken to Montero, who is still in Venezuela, but the new skipper is interested to see if the former top-prospect of the Yankees can regain his mojo.

"He's certainly a part of this organization and part of the future," McClendon said. "He struggled a little bit, but he's a tremendous talent. He came highly publicized and as of yet has not lived up to what he's capable of doing. But I see good things in this young man in the near future."

Zduriencik said he had a long conversation with Montero's agent on Tuesday at the Winter Meetings and his message of what happens next for the 22-year-old was clear.

"It's up to Jesus," he said. "This is a golden opportunity for him and it's laid right in front of him. How he handles, well, it's in his lap."

Greg Johns is a reporter for Follow him on Twitter @GregJohnsMLB as well as his Mariners Musings blog.
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