SEATTLE -- Jesus Montero knows what is at stake. Regarded as one of baseball's premier young hitting prospects when he was acquired by the Mariners as a catcher four years ago, Montero is now out of Minor League options and facing a critical spring as he tries to make Seattle's roster as a right-handed platoon partner with Adam Lind at first base.
Last winter, Montero turned his life around with a rigid training program at the team's Peoria, Ariz., facility. He shed more than 40 pounds as well as a reputation as an unmotivated youngster with some discipline issues.
Montero did everything right off the field last year. Now his challenge is to prove he deserves a roster spot with his playing ability. And in an offseason of considerable roster churn under new general manager Jerry Dipoto, Montero appears destined to get that opportunity this spring.
"He had a great Triple-A year," Dipoto said. "He's done what he can do in the Minor Leagues. It's his time to be a big leaguer. Certainly, as it pertains to at least the right-handed portion of a platoon, he's an option for us. We have to find out how he handles the defensive duties. But he can swing the bat."
Indeed, Montero mashed Triple-A pitching with a .355 average and .966 OPS last year, hitting 18 homers and 85 RBIs in 98 games and clearly standing out as the Mariners' best Minor League bat. But he only hit .223 with five homers and 19 RBIs in 38 games with Seattle. He also hasn't received consistent playing time in the Majors since his first season with Seattle in 2012, when he batted .260 with 15 homers and 62 RBIs in 135 games as a catcher/designated hitter.
Montero has matured immensely over the past few years, and he's well aware that with no remaining Minor League options, his future with Seattle could stand in the balance.
"Yeah, I have to work even harder now," Montero said before heading to Arizona this winter. "I have to make the team. I don't know what's going to happen, but I'm just going to do my best to be up here the whole year."
The acquisition of Lind earlier this month could actually open the door for a clear role for Montero. Lind, 32, has made a career out of crunching right-handed pitchers to the tune of a .293 average and an .863 OPS, compared to .213 and .586 vs. lefties. So, the Mariners will almost certainly try to find a platoon partner, and Montero currently is the top candidate.
"There's a spot for him on our club," manager Scott Servais said. "He needs to perform well during Spring Training and going forward into the season. We'd really like him to be able to mash those left-handed pitchers. That would be great. I think he knows what's ahead of him."
In limited opportunities last year, Montero actually hit better against right-handed pitchers. But in his big league career, he's posted a .292/.341/.429 line against southpaws vs. a .228/.265/.379 line against right-handers. The question now is whether he's ready to handle defensive duties at first base after a full year of transitioning to that position.
And that's why Montero has spent this offseason back in Peoria, following the now-familiar workout regimen that opened eyes when he completely changed his body and shocked many onlookers last winter.
"I'm going to do the same," he said. "I'm going out there and working hard every day. Keep hitting, keep throwing, keep taking ground balls, keep being in shape. Agility is the big thing, trying to have more range at first base, trying to be more agile. I'll keep working at first base every single day, ground balls, fly balls, everything. I just want to do everything I can to be better next year."
Montero's maturation is motivated by more than baseball. The arrival of a second child this offseason is a big part of his drive. Montero and his wife had a baby girl last year and are adding a boy to the family this offseason. Being a dad has brought a new perspective and he embraces the role.
"It changed everything," he said. "It makes me more motivated about my work and about being more professional. I want to do this more and more and more. That's what I think about all the time. I want to take care of my family and do my best for them."