May 13, 2014
The Situation: With the Mets sliding down the National League East standings, Jenrry Mejia moves from the rotation to the bullpen, clearing the way for BP’s no. 4-ranked Mets prospect, Rafael Montero. Montero will make his MLB debut at home against Masahiro Tanaka and the New York Yankees on Wednesday night.
Background: Signed out of the Dominican Republic as a 20-year old in 2011, Montero has breezed through the minor leagues. In his debut season in 2011 he chopped through four short-season leagues, compiling a combined 2.15 ERA in 71 innings. He followed that up by flying through both A-ball leagues in 2012 with a combined 2.36 ERA in 20 starts (122 innings). Montero didn’t miss a beat in 2013 when he hit the upper levels of the minor leagues, posting a 2.43 ERA and nearly 10 strikeouts per nine innings at Double-A and then pitching very well in 16 starts in the high-octane Pacific Coast League. So far this season, Montero has notched a 3.67 ERA in eight starts for Triple-A Las Vegas, allowing just 30 hits and 18 walks in 41 2/3 innings while striking out 41 batters.
Scouting Report: Montero doesn’t look the part of a mid-rotation starter, standing just six feet and weighing 170 pounds. He is lean and lacks physical projection but is a quality athlete who repeats his easy delivery well. His arm action is clean, and the ball comes out of his hand with ease.
With his quick arm and easy delivery, Montero pumps fastballs in the low-90s with consistency and will occasionally find 94-95 mph when he needs a little extra. His fastball lacks plane because of his height and ¾ arm slot, but he does generate some late life that can lead to weaker contact.
Montero’s ability to locate his fastball to all parts of the zone and move it out of the zone when he wants to is his best attribute. He knows how to move the ball equally well to both corners. He can get in trouble when he elevates, because he loses what little plane he has on his fastball, but when he works down, the pitch is extremely effective.
Montero backs up his fastball with two average secondary offerings, a changeup that is slightly more advanced, and a slider that still lacks consistency. With the changeup, Montero maintains his arm speed well, allowing the pitch to play off the fastball and keep hitters off balance. The slider can get loose at times, but when right, it shows tight spin and works in the average range.
With a three-pitch mix, all of which rate at least average, and an impressive command profile, Montero’s projection is more about the sum of the parts than any standout tool. His ability to work in and around the zone with all three pitches while maintaining his raw stuff deep into starts gives him the ability to log innings and keep his team in the game. Once he settles in at the big-league level, Montero should be a very good fourth starter.
Immediate Big-League Future: The Mets don’t look like a team poised to contend in the NL East, and that fact alone gives Montero a chance to work through his growing pains in the majors this summer. His skill at locating three quality pitches should allow him to stay out of most trouble and be competitive. He’ll hit some bumps in the road, but he should be a solid back-end starter this year as he moves toward his ultimate role as a mid-rotation workhorse. —Mark Anderson
Fantasy Impact: With Mejia’s transfer to the bullpen, Montero gets the call and should have a decent amount of rope in his first run at the rotation. Montero might actually be undervalued in fantasy circles at present, because his star doesn’t burn as bright as other pitching prospects. He’s already 23, so what works against him in prospect valuation might well be a boon in terms of his preparation for the majors.
The Mets’ bullpen is a mess, and given that the bullpen is the highest priority on middling teams, it makes sense to address that weakness by shifting Mejia and adding Montero to the staff. All sarcasm aside, creating room for Montero and addressing a bullpen need isn’t a poor decision, and it allows for some breathing room for Montero should he falter early on. While he has never profiled as a top-of-the-rotation guy, Montero has always missed plenty of bats, so while his lack of ceiling has diminished his prospect status, his ability to compile innings and strikeouts should make him plenty valuable in fantasy formats.
Montero should have something like 23 starts left, and with 155 frames thrown last year, he’s probably free to push 200 this season. He’d have to average seven innings per start to get there, which is very unlikely, so he should be able to make every start from here on out. Over those 23 outings, Montero should be able to strike out more than 7.5 batters per nine innings, and while he’s struggled with walks in a small sample at Las Vegas, control has rarely been a problem for him, which means that a solid-average WHIP should be in order.
While it’s likely that Montero’s stuff won’t translate as well to the majors as it has to the Pacific Coast League, the adjustment in home parks should give one hope that he can approximate his Triple-A stats. He should be a positive contributor in the strikeout department and average or slightly better in WHIP and ERA, although wins could be hard to come by given his team. In NL-Only leagues a FAAB bid in the range of $20-24 should be expected, as adding quality starters who have the chance of lasting the rest of the season are rare. The shallower the league, the less he should cost, as he’s not the impact performer that most shallow leaguers are looking to blow their FAAB on. He’s likely to be owned in all dynasty formats, but if he’s not, he’s worth rostering, even in a 12-team league. He’s a borderline asset in 10-team mixed formats but should be a streamable option thanks to his generous home park, as well as the other favorable pitcher’s parks in the NL East. —Craig Goldstein
Mark Anderson is an author of Baseball Prospectus. Follow @ProspectMark