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Once-prized prospect Jesus Montero hopes his weight issues are a thing of the past

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PEORIA, Arizona — Jesus Montero did not report to spring training out of shape. And for the Seattle Mariners and their fans, that's worth noting.

Especially with many still waiting for Montero to prove himself as a major leaguer.

Montero, once regarded as the future of the Mariners at catcher, isn't just a slimmer and trimmer version of his old self. He's also contrite, reading off a handwritten list of responses, apologies and thank-yous he wanted to express in discussing his new look and new outlook.

The past two seasons have been difficult for the 25-year-old from Venezuela. In 2013, he served a 50-game suspension stemming from the Biogenesis drug scandal and was hampered by left knee surgery.

Late last summer, a solid season at Triple-A Tacoma came to a sudden end when Montero was suspended for his involvement in an incident at a Class A game in Boise.

Montero had been on a rehab assignment with the Mariners' farm club in Everett when it happened, a confrontation with a former scout in full view of fans that embarrassed the organization.

"That was a bad thing, but I really turned a page," Montero said. "Not a page, a book. To take a look at myself and step out and see myself and repair that mistake."

On top of all that, Montero was also struggling to manage his weight. But the pounds are gone now — he said he's down to 230.

On Friday, Montero was swinging for the fences in batting practice and displaying agility in fielding grounders at first base, where he was moved midway through 2013.

Mariners executives received updates on Montero's progress throughout the offseason, and they were pleasantly surprised to see his weight loss, which is thought to be around 40 pounds from last year at this time.

"It was surprising, but it wasn't shocking simply because we were prepared for how hard he was working," general manager Jack Zduriencik said. "Everyone said he really, really got after it and committed himself like they hadn't seen anybody in a while."

Both Montero and Zduriencik feel there is still power in Montero's bat.

The heftier Montero hit .286 with 16 home runs and 74 runs batted in 97 games for Tacoma last season.

Montero credits a better diet and extensive work with Mariners strength and conditioning coach James Clifford, including taking 100 ground balls to start daily workouts that began on Oct. 5.

Clifford said Montero even came in to work out on Christmas Day and New Year's Day, and would have included Sundays if the staff didn't tell him to rest.

Montero said he was also inspired to come back to the team in better shape by his daughter, Loren, who along with his wife watched him work out Friday.

"I want her to look at me as an example, not like somebody like a quitter. That's what I was thinking the whole time. I want to give her something when she grows up," he said.

"I put all my love, all my sweat, everything, every second, every minute, every hour just working on getting better every single day," Montero said. "I appreciate the Mariners because they've been patient (after) the mistakes I did before."

Montero is currently on the Mariners' 40-man roster, but this could his last chance to stick with the organization, as his contract expires at the end of this season.

Zduriencik and the coaches have to see how Montero looks in games, both with hitting and defense. They also hope the change in Montero the person is evident, too.

"He is more confident in himself," Zduriencik said. "I think he realizes that he has accomplished something this offseason that he probably never did in his career. Now he has to compete. He has to come out and do it on the field."

NOTES: All pitchers and catchers on the spring training roster reported for their physicals Friday. The first workout for those players is Saturday. ... LHP Joe Saunders signed a minor league contract with an invite to spring training. The 33-year-old Saunders went 11-16 as a starter for Seattle in 2013. He split last year with the Texas, Kansas City and Baltimore systems, going 0-5 overall with a 6.70 ERA in the majors. He'll compete for a bullpen job with Seattle.

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