If there’s a pitching prospect who draws as many conflicting opinions as Luis Severino, it’s Frankie Montas. Acquired from the Red Sox in the deal that saw Jake Peavy head to Boston, Montas has made vast improvements in his time in the White Sox system, and several scouts I spoke with believed he was one of the most promising right-handed pitching prospects in baseball.
Other scouts however, were far less kind, and believed that Montas had too many red flags to be ranked highly, suggesting that the bullpen was the more likely landing spot for the 22 year-old from San Cristobal. To get an idea of why the opinions varied so much, I spoke with two scouts who had seen the right-hander on multiple occasions—one high on his future, one low—as to why they came to their respective conclusions.
There’s no question that Montas has an elite fastball—one that has been clocked up to triple-digits—but the rest of the arsenal remains a question mark, as both his slider and change have received mixed reviews.
High scout: “Not to sound like a velocity whore, but when you throw as hard as he does with life on the pitch, the off-speed stuff doesn’t have to be elite for him to be an elite hurler. I’ve seen 60 grade sliders out of him with hard, late bite, and it’s certainly a good enough pitch to keep hitters off the heater. Right now, the change is a below-average pitch and that will have to get better if he’s going to pitch at the top of a rotation, but he’s still a kid. I think he has the stuff to be a very, very good starting pitcher.”
Low scout: “There’s a lot of work to be done. The slider is the best secondary [pitch], but at its best it’s a 55 and at its worst it’s a developmental pitch. I’ve only seen a handful of changeups, but there was no deception from arm speed and he looked uncomfortable throwing it. Can you start with 70-55-40? Sure, but your margin of error is very thin.”
HS: “I think what you have to keep in mind when looking at his command is just how far he’s come. When he first came over from [the Dominican Republic] he had no idea where the ball was going, as many teenagers without a lot of experience do. Now, I see a kid who still isn’t hitting his spots consistently, but there’s been a ton of improvement. All it needs to be is average for him to start, and I think he’ll get there.”
LS: “It’ll have to improve substantially if he’s going to start. He falls behind hitters constantly, and even when he’s in the strike zone it’s generally not where the pitch is intended. You can get away with that when you’re throwing hard at the lower levels, but against legitimate big-league hitters, you need to be able to hit your spots. I remain skeptical on whether or not he’ll be able to do that.
Both scouts agreed that Montas has made drastic improvements over the past five years with his delivery, but only one thought that those adjustments were enough. I’m guessing you guys can guess who felt that way.
HS: “It’s so much better than what it was even two years ago, much less five. There’s still some effort, but he repeats [the delivery] much more consistently, and he incorporates the lower half now, which will be big for him down the road, not just now. I’m not going to teach his delivery by any means, but it’ll work, and he’s still progressing.”
LS: “When I saw him in [Low-A] Kannapolis, I remember immediately thinking that’s the delivery of a reliever. There was so much effort there, and a ton of moving parts. When I saw him in the AFL I was impressed how much it has been toned down, but there’s still an awful lot of pressure on the arm. I would fast-track the arm in the bullpen, though I definitely understand why Chicago would give him a chance to start.”
I added a special category for Montas, as it’s the—no pun intended—elephant in the room when we’re talking about the young man’s future. Montas is listed at 185 pounds, but no one I’ve spoken with believes that’s his actual weight, and it was a concern for both scouts—though not a deal-breaker.
HS: “Weight is a tricky thing. You definitely don’t want to see a morbidly obese guy out there; for every David Wells or Bartolo Colon there are dozens of guys who ate their way out of baseball. I don’t think that’s what we’re seeing from Montas though, I think it’s a case of a guy that’s just sort of filling out his frame. That being said, it’s definitely something I’m keeping track of if I’m Chicago; it can lead to big-time durability issues.”
LS: “He looked fat when I saw him at the Arizona Fall League. Not chubby, fat. Baseball is a sport that can compensate for a lack of athleticism more than others, but you don’t want to see guys that are fat, there’s a ton of risk there. I’ve seen plenty of guys his age go through weight transformations though, people forget that Felix Hernandez was considered fat at one point, too. It’s just another thing to add to the list though, and that’s why I’m lower on Montas than most.
High Scout: “A strikeout artist who can also give you 200 innings ceiling, and lights-out-closer floor.”
Low Scout: “At his best, I think Montas becomes a solid mid-rotation starter, or maybe a really nice set-up man. At his worst, he’s a swing man or long reliever.”
That’s a pretty big difference in ceiling and floor; easily the biggest I’ve seen in these differing opinion pieces. And while I’m higher on Montas than the low scout, it’s easy to understand why he has reservations. Yes, the arm strength is impressive and the slider is another potential out pitch, but the only thing that’s consistent for Montas is the fastball. The improvement he’s made over the past few years is impressive though, and assuming he’s not done developing, he has a chance to join a very talented White Sox rotation in the next two years.
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