Injury Paves Way For Yankees' Top Prospect





TAMPA—An MRI on catcher Francisco Cervelli's left foot painted a clearer picture of Jesus Montero's immediate future.

Before he broke a bone on March 6 by fouling a pitch off his instep, Cervelli had the inside track on being Russell Martin's backup. The Yankees could not speculate on a return date for Cervelli, who was to wear a walking boot for at least four weeks.

That provided Montero, a precocious hitting talent, with an opening to show manager Joe Girardi that he can handle a big league pitching staff. Austin Romine, who hasn't caught above Double-A, was Montero's main competition for the backup job. Veteran Gustavo Molina, who has limited major league experience, also is in the mix.

"It changes a lot because I get an opportunity now. I wasn't wishing anything bad to happen to him," Montero said of Cervelli, whose earliest return would be mid-May. "It seems like I have a big opportunity to be on the team now. I'm going to do my best. "

The 21-year-old Montero isn't exactly a Gold Glove catcher. However, the progress he made from last spring to this one hasn't gone unnoticed.

"For a guy who has his type of bat, I have a lot of respect for how hard he has worked to improve (defensively) from last year," starter Phil Hughes said after Montero caught him on March 1.

Reliever David Robertson echoed Hughes when asked about Montero: "I first saw him when I signed here and it's amazing how much better he has gotten. He sets up good, blocks balls in the dirt and stays down. He looks good."

Few doubt that Montero is ready to hit big league pitching. He batted .289/.353/.517 with 21 homers for Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre last season as one of the International League's youngest players. Nor is arm strength a concern.

The questions center on Montero's size—he's 6-foot-4 and 225 pounds—foot work, glove-to-hand transfer and ability to handle veteran pitchers.

"My goal this year is to get to the big leagues, be on the team," Montero said.

YANKEE DOODLES

• Righthander Andrew Brackman didn't make his spring debut until March 7 as he dealt with a left groin injury. His late start guarantees he'll begin the year in Triple-A.

• General manager Brian Cashman indicated that two other promising young pitchers, lefty Manny Banuelos and righty Dellin Betances, would begin in Double-A.