Montero goes all in to prove himself at first base

Former top prospect sheds catcher's mitt, 45 pounds in effort to make club

Montero goes all in to prove himself at first base

PEORIA, Ariz. -- There's nothing easy about losing 45 pounds over five months of intense training or dealing with doubters who think your career is over before it really got started. But Jesus Montero could just now be hitting the hardest part of his recommitment to baseball, knowing he has to keep that dedication over the long haul while waiting for a chance on a team that has no obvious opening on its Major League roster.

Montero was one of the interesting stories when Mariners camp opened two weeks ago, drawing attention for his dramatic new look and improved approach. But the fact remains there's more work to be done in order to become a viable first-base candidate and contender for a 25-man roster spot.

Getting positive results early certainly can help that process, however, and Montero went 2-for-2 with a pair of singles in Seattle's Cactus League opener on Wednesday while looking far more athletic and agile in working at first base.

"I felt really good yesterday," Montero said Thursday morning after arriving at the complex once again shortly after 6 a.m. to get extra conditioning. "I've been working so hard for this. I've been thinking positive every single day. The work I'm putting in with [strength coach James Clifford] and all the guys in the gym has been awesome because you see the good results right away. Just being in shape, just being at this weight and feeling good, it's a change and it's fabulous."

The Mariners were extremely vocal in their support and encouragement of Montero's off-field turnaround this spring, thrilled to see his renewed commitment. Now, though, the reality is that he's simply another player fighting for a roster spot. It's a tough profession and nothing will be given to Montero.

Montero's solo home run

Montero is among the mix of first basemen in camp behind starter Logan Morrison. That group diminished by one Thursday when Ji-Man Choi underwent surgery to repair a broken leg, but unless something happens to Morrison, the likelihood is that Montero will open the season in Triple-A Tacoma.

Yet there is a large difference this spring in Montero's standing in the organization. He's back to being viewed as a player with upside, a good right-handed hitter who now looks and acts like a first baseman.

Montero said he's already noticed the physical difference in his play this spring.

"I feel so much better," he said of his first game. "Just running around the bases, feeling good, being in shape and moving and all that, it was fun."

Montero showed his improved agility with a nice stretch at first to complete an excellent defensive play by third baseman Carlos Rivero in the opener. He says he's thrown away his old catcher's glove and is fully dedicated to his new position.

"Last year I was still thinking as a catcher," he said. "Now I'm 100 percent about first base. That's what they want me to do and I'm putting all my heart, all my honesty, all my love into first base and it's been coming good. When you're playing first, you want to do your best for your teammates in the infield and help make things easier for them and that's what I'm trying to do."

Even a missed pop foul that he overran on Wednesday served as a learning tool. Montero said he took his eyes off the ball to see the onrushing catcher, but was reminded afterward by infield coach Chris Woodward that his responsibility now is to call off the backstop on that play.

"It was good that it happened," Montero said. "I want to practice it here so it doesn't happen in the season. Like I told Woody yesterday, I want him to hit me ground balls, hit me line drives, fly balls, everything, so I can learn and get better."

Greg Johns, a journalist in the Seattle area for more than 20 years, began covering the Mariners for MLB.com in November 2010.

This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.