PEORIA, Ariz. — Mariners first baseman Jesus Montero initiated what he hopes will be a redemptive spring and season Wednesday morning by issuing a public apology for his involvement in the Biogenesis drug scandal.
“I want to apologize to the whole organization and all of my teammates for what I did last year,” he said a day before the Mariners stage their first official workout for pitchers and catchers.
“I made a big bad mistake last year. I don’t know what I was thinking. But I’m here right now, in this new year, to be better and to help my teammates to win.”
Montero, 24, closed last season by accepting a 50-game suspension from Major League Baseball for allegedly obtaining performance-enhancing drugs from the Biogenesis, a health clinic in Coral Gables, Fla.
Thirteen other players received suspensions.
“I feel bad for all of my family, for all of my teammates for what I did,” Montero said. “It wasn’t a good experience for me, but right now I feel better. Thank God, everything is over, and I’m going to start again.”
The suspension capped a disastrous year for Montero, who was generally viewed as one of the game’s top prospects when obtained in a Jan. 12, 2012 trade that sent pitcher Michael Pineda to the New York Yankees.
Montero began last season as the Mariners’ starting catcher, but he was batting just .208 with three homers and nine RBIs in 29 games when demoted May 23 to Class AAA Tacoma.
That move also prompted a position switch to first base because club officials viewed Mike Zunino, the club’s first-round pick in the 2012 draft, as a better long-term defensive fit at catcher.
Montero suffered an injury to his left knee that required surgery soon after arriving in Tacoma. He missed five weeks before returning in July for a short rehab assignment at Rookie-level Peoria before rejoining Tacoma.
MLB issued its Biogenesis suspensions on Aug. 5.
“I’ve got to prove to myself, first of all, that I have to be better,” Montero said. “I want to be on the team again. I want to be big leagues. Then I have to prove (myself) to my family and to the team.”
There is much to prove.
“He’s been through too much the last year,” general manager Jack Zduriencik said, “and he has too much to prove to all of us, for him to be someone you’re banking on.
“Does he have the potential to be an impact offensive player? I think he does…We didn’t see that last year. I think we’re all very curious to see what Jesus Montero is when he rolls into spring training.”
That’s already an issue.
Montero tested his repaired knee by playing 22 games in the Venezuelan Winter League. No problems there; he said it’s “really good,” but he enters camp on a weight-loss program.
“I gained a lot of weight in my country,” he admitted. “So, now, I’m on a program to lose weight. I’m working really hard to get my weight back. I wasn’t doing nothing (after finishing winter ball), just eating.”
Montero already faced a tough battle to win a roster spot; the Mariners are overloaded with first base/designated hitter candidates. Since Montero has options, he seems likely to open the season back at Tacoma.
Even so, he believes his apology represents an important step in rebuilding his once-promising career.
“My teammates are important to me,” Montero said. “I wanted them to be comfortable with me. I didn’t want them to be upset or anything like that.
“I wanted to say this (to reporters) because I want everyone to know I’m a good person. I know what everybody thinks, but I want to make (change their minds).”