SEATTLE – When Miguel Olivo was a 23-year-old catcher preparing for his first full season in the major leagues, his playing time came at the expense of veteran Sandy Alomar Jr., a six-time All Star who was in the late stages of his career.
Despite being an established veteran who was losing starts to a young up-and-comer, Alomar took Olivo under his wing and helped teach the rookie the nuances of playing one of baseball’s most challenging positions.
Nine years later, Olivo is ready to return the favor. A year after establishing career highs in games played and hitting 19 home runs, Olivo could be bothered by the fact that the Mariners went out and traded for Jesus Montero, one of the top young catching prospects in baseball. Instead, Olivo is excited about a move that should help the team improve offensively, and is more than willing to be a mentor, just as Alomar was to him in 2003.
“When I was (23), I had a top catcher to help me out,” Olivo said. “Now he’s going to have me to teach him things I learned from those people. I had a lot of people that helped me out, and that’s why I am what I am now, because I listened to them. If he listens to people that know about catching, he can become one of the top catchers in the league.”
And as willing as Olivo is to pass on whatever knowledge he can, Montero is an equally willing pupil.
“I’m preparing myself and trying to learn the little things that the veteran guys know, learn from them,” Montero said.
Of course, this isn’t exactly the same situation as the one that took place with the White Sox in 2003. While Montero may well be the Mariners’ future catcher, he won’t be an everyday catcher this season. The jury is still out whether Montero’s long-term future is at catcher, designated hitter, or some other position, and while he’ll get some time behind the plate, Olivo figures to still spend a lot of time catching this season.
“Miguel is still our catcher right now,” manager Eric Wedge said. “With Jesus, the most important thing right now for me is to make sure he gets everyday at-bats, and then continue to develop as a catcher. I do feel confident he’s going to be a solid big-league catcher. Without a doubt he has the potential to be an everyday big-league catcher, and I don’t think he should expect anything less from himself, because I don’t, but he’s 22 years old, most catchers develop late, so we’re not going to rush this thing.”
Even if Olivo gets the majority of the playing time behind the plate, Montero still will take some playing time from him, and is also a potential threat to Olivo’s long-term future with the team. But Olivo, having been on the other end of this scenario, plans to be the consummate pro this season while helping the person who may become his eventual replacement.
“I’m a team guy,” Olivo said. “If the team is going to be better with him catching and I don’t play, or I play DH, or he plays DH, I just want to win games. I just want everybody to be happy. Montero, he’s a young kid. … I’m happy that he’s here and I’m happy that we’re going to score more runs.”
Besides, it won’t necessarily be a one-way mentor-mentee relationship. Olivo has had some solid offensive seasons his career, but figures he can learn a bit about hitting from Montero, who is considered one of the best young hitting prospects in all of baseball.
“He said he’s going to be next to me all the time,” Olivo said. “I said, ‘Yeah, you’re welcome to come and I’ll help you out. … Maybe I learn something hitting from you, and we go back and forth.’ ”