The smile was unmistakable as Jesus Montero rounded the bases Sunday afternoon.
He knew as soon as he made contact that the ball was gone. He didn’t know just how far – an estimated 460 feet with a velocity of 111 miles per hour that sent the ball over the left field screen bouncing onto Seneca Street.
His second home run was crushed to center field – 412 feet with the ball exiting the park at 106 mph.
Maybe Montero was warming up for Monday’s Triple-A Home Run Derby in Charlotte.
“Maybe I get a good feeling from today,” Montero said after his 3 for 4 performance in the Buffalo Bisons’ 5-3 win over Lehigh Valley at Coca-Cola Field. “It was good to hit those two home runs to give the team the win today.”
— Buffalo Bisons (@BuffaloBisons) July 10, 2016
With 104 hits on the season, Montero leads the International League. His batting average (.310) ranks in the top 10 and he leads the Bisons in five offensive categories including home runs (11), runs batted in (52) and runs scored (37).
What has made him effective at the plate this season is the ability to adjust to pitchers and working on hitting with his hands.
First up: adjustments. Here’s Montero talking about his monster home run to left field off Lehigh Valley starting pitcher Anthony Vasquez.
“The first time out he struck me out with a fastball in,” Montero said. “I was looking in second at-bat and I did get it, I hit it really good and I knew it was gone.”
Second: perfecting his form.
“I just keep my routine in the cage and try to throw my hands to the ball, don’t use too much my body to hit,” Montero said. “Sometimes they break my bat because of that. Today it was good. Yesetrday I didn’t get any base hits. That’s part of the game. Today was really fun just to use my hands. That’s what happens when I use my hands.”
Montero uses the word “fun” to describe his game. A lot.
The game has to be fun because his baseball career arc is not what he, or anyone else for that matter, expected.
Montero was once a top-10 prospect in Major League Baseball. He originally was signed by the New York Yankees in 2008, making his way up the organizational chain as a catcher. In 2011 he was the Yankees top prospect and made his MLB debut Sept. 1, 2011. He went Seattle in 2012 playing 135 games for the Mariners as a catcher/designated hitter.
Then he was caught in the Biogenesis performance-enhancing drug scandal and served a 50-game suspension. He spent the next three seasons up and down the Mariners’ organization, mostly playing first base and DH. In March he was claimed off waivers by Toronto and the Blue Jays outrighted him to the minors.
Montero has spent all season with the Bisons in Triple-A, still waiting that elusive call-up to the Blue Jays.
For the 26-year-old, it is what it is and he proudly takes his spot at the Triple-A All Star events in Charlotte, starting with Monday’s home run derby and continuing in Wednesday’s All-Star game which pits the International League against the Pacific Coast League.
“It means a lot,” Montero said of the All-Star selection. “Every single year I set goals before the break. Obviously I’m here. I’ve been here the whole year. I want to be in the big leagues but I don’t make any decisions. I make the All-Star team and that’s really good for me.
“My season has been good. I haven’t played much first base, but I don’t decide anything but hitting wise has been really good. I’ve been doing my routines. I’ve been doing what I had to do and now I give us a chance to win.”
While his swings can be a sight to see, it’s what he brings to the clubhouse that has made him an integral part of the Herd this season.
“Man he’s awesome,” said Bisons’ outfielder Domonic Brown. “I’ve known him since A ball so we came up together playing against each other when he was with the Yankees organization. He’s a great guy. We’re together a lot and he’s an even better teammate. … He’s always upbeat. He keeps us relaxed and it’s fun.”