SEATTLE -- After getting into just 56 games between the Majors and Minors this past season due to injuries and a suspension, the Mariners' Jesus Montero is now playing for Lara in the Venezuelan Winter League to help regain his timing.
Montero, 23, hit .241 (7-for-29) with a home run and three RBIs in his first seven games with the Venezuelan club while playing primarily first base.
The Mariners moved him to first after sending him down to Triple-A Tacoma in late May. Montero had struggled both with the bat and behind the plate as the starting catcher in the big leagues. But he tore meniscus in his left knee and missed six weeks, then was suspended for 50 games for violating baseball's Joint Drug Treatment and Prevention Program.
As a result, Montero played in just 27 Minor League contests -- 19 with Tacoma and eight while rehabbing with the Arizona Rookie League club -- hitting .250 with one home run and 11 RBIs. He'd hit .208 with three homers and nine RBIs in 29 games with Seattle before the demotion.
Montero was one of baseball's premier right-handed hitting prospects when the Mariners acquired him in the Michael Pineda trade with the Yankees in 2012, and he could improve his status going into Spring Training with a strong Winter League in his native Venezuela.
"He missed a lot of time this year, so it's good for him to get as many at-bats as possible," said Mariners director of Minor League operations Chris Gwynn. "He is healthy and playing a lot of first base. It looks like he's getting his legs underneath him now and is swinging the bat pretty well."
Before an 0-for-5 night in Lara's 7-6 loss to Aguilas del Zulia on Tuesday, Montero had hit safely in his first five games with Lara, which is managed by former Mariners Minor League director Pedro Grifol. He has started six games at first base and one at designated hitter.
Montero is one of seven Mariners players who have seen some action for Lara. Logan Bawcom, a 24-year-old reliever acquired from the Dodgers in 2012 in the Brandon League trade, picked up his first save in a 3-1 win over La Guaira on Sunday.
Bawcom, who saved 21 games for Tacoma this past season, has a 2.25 ERA in four appearances for Lara, with one earned run, five hits, one walk and four strikeouts in four innings.
Two younger Seattle prospects, right-hander Carlos Misell and lefty Cruz Pereira, have combined to throw 5 2/3 scoreless innings of relief for Lara. Misell, a 21-year-old who was 2-0 with 13 strikeouts in 7 2/3 scoreless innings in Rookie League action, has allowed three hits with one strikeout over three innings in three appearances in Venezuela.
Pereira, 22, has thrown 2 2/3 scoreless frames with one hit and three walks in three games for Lara. He went 1-3 with a 2.66 ERA in 23 2/3 innings over 12 relief outings with the Arizona Rookie League club in 2013.
Left-hander Anthony Vasquez, working his way back after missing much of 2012 following brain surgery for a ruptured blood vessel, had a rough outing in Lara's 11-3 loss to Caracas on Wednesday, giving up seven hits and six runs in 1 2/3 innings. Vasquez had a strong debut for Lara, but is now 0-2 with a 7.71 ERA in three starts.
Mariners right-hander Hector Noesi is pitching for Tigres del Licey in the Dominican League and threw five innings with just one run on three hits with two walks and two strikeouts in a no-decision in his debut against Escogido on Sunday.
Most of the other Mariners offseason involvement so far is with the Arizona Fall League, where promising infield prospect Chris Taylor is off to a roaring start. Taylor, the Mariners Minor League Player of the Year, has hit .409 (9-for-22) with a double, triple, three runs and two stolen bases in his first six games for the Peoria Javelinas.
Taylor, the No. 5 prospect in the Mariners' system in MLB.com's rankings, has played three games at second base and three at shortstop for Peoria. He went 2-for-4 with an RBI triple, a walk and a run scored in the Javelinas' 5-3 victory at Salt River on Tuesday night.
Third baseman Patrick Kivlehan (No. 16 in the Mariners' MLB.com prospect rankings) also was 2-for-4 with an RBI in that win, raising his AFL average to .238 (5-for-21) in six games. Right-hander Carson Smith (No. 13) recorded his first save, escaping with a scoreless ninth inning despite a pair of leadoff singles by Salt River. Smith has a 4.50 ERA in four appearances, allowing four hits and one walk while striking out four in four innings.
Fellow Mariners prospect Dominic Leone has recorded saves in two of Peoria's five wins. Leone, a 21-year-old selected in the 16th round out of Clemson in the 2012 Draft, has allowed just three hits with one walk and eight strikeouts in 5 1/3 shutout innings over four appearances.
Leone had 16 saves and a 2.25 ERA in 48 games this past season while splitting time between Class A High Desert and Double-A Jackson.