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Move to first base a career reboot for Montero

Former elite catching prospect hoping to make an impact at new position

Move to first base a career reboot for Montero

PEORIA, Ariz. -- Once regarded as one of the top right-handed-hitting prospects in baseball and an up-and-coming catcher, Jesus Montero finds himself literally in a new position this spring.

Montero, 24, is working strictly at first base this spring with the Mariners. He has a catcher's glove tucked away in a box above his locker -- just in case. But when the team goes out for defensive drills, Montero reports to first base on a field with other youngsters who are long shots to make the club.

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The first basemen on the main practice field during infield drills are Justin Smoak and Logan Morrison, taking throws from Robinson Cano, Kyle Seager, Brad Miller and the like. Montero takes part in drills on the second field, with prospects Ji-Man Choi, Nate Tenbrink, Gabriel Noriega, Ty Kelly, Chris Taylor, Carlos Triunfel and Burt Reynolds.

That's the reality for Montero, who struggled when given the starting-catching role in spring last year, wound up getting sent down to Triple-A Tacoma, hurt his knee and then was suspended the final 50 games of the year after the Biogenesis scandal.

Montero played first base in the Venezuelan Winter League this offseason, then got 32 stitches in his right hand after hitting the windshield in a car accident. He spent the rest of the winter putting on some weight.

What do the Mariners want Montero to do this spring?

"Get better," said manager Lloyd McClendon. "Get back to being the big-time prospect he was in New York. Part of that is getting himself in top physical condition, getting in touch with his mental side.

"He has a lot of work to do. To his credit, he's putting the time in. So we'll see. My eyes are wide open when it comes to Montero. I'm not closing any doors and I'm not opening any doors. It's all going to be up to him."

Montero acknowledges the transition to first base has not come easily after playing nothing but catcher coming up.

"I played a lot of first base in Venezuela, but then I got in the car accident," he said. "But before that [accident], I was playing almost every single day for a month and a half.

"It's a little different. It's actually a lot different. I see the game from another view. I have a lot of things to do. It's crazy. I never thought it would be that crazy, but it is."

McClendon said Montero looks like he can play the position -- with some work.

"I think if you're an athlete, you should have good enough hands," McClendon said. "And he looks OK over there. He looks OK. I've been impressed. And he's got a loud bat. I'm just taking a wait-and-see attitude with this and we'll see where we are."

Some have given up on Montero. McClendon isn't one of them.

"I see a young man that still has a chance," McClendon said. "I can't want it for him. At some point, the light has to come on for all of us. In my talk with him, he's at a crossroad. It's time to either put up or shut up. So we'll see where we are."

Montero said his hand is fully healed now and he's starting to feel more comfortable at first base. He knows there is work ahead.

"I feel great, I just have to go through Spring Training and see what happens," Montero said. "I have an opportunity again, and I hope to do well and help my team to win. This is a big year for me to get my confidence again and prove I can play in the big leagues."

Greg Johns is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @GregJohnsMLB as well as his Mariners Musings blog. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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