For years, Mike Montgomery was one of the top prospects in baseball, and it seemed like his ascension to a topflight major league pitcher could happen at any point. Instead, the lefty Montgomery struggled through back-to-back rough seasons in 2011 and 2012 before heading to the Rays in the Wil Myers-James Shields deal. His results were only moderately better this season as he managed a 4.72 ERA and a 77-48 strikeout to walk ratio in 108.2 innings pitched. But then this fall, Montgomery finally built some momentum with a strong showing in the Arizona Fall League, and 2014 looks like it will finally be the year where he makes his long-awaited major league debut.
Bernie Pleskoff of MLB.com saw Montgomery in the Arizona Fall League and gave his repertoire a strong review.
Of the three pitches I saw Montgomery throw, I felt his fastball was average in movement and efficiency, the curve had nice tilt and deceptive movement, and the changeup was a plus pitch.
Pleskoff projected Montgomery as a starting pitcher in the major leagues, listing more consistency in his release point and command as the final things he needs to work on. But in just those three pitches, Montgomery may have enough to secure big league role as soon as the first couple of months of next season. Montgomery was dominant against lefties in the AFL, holding them to a .150 average with 6 strikeouts against just 1 walk in 6 innings pitched, and he even showed solid results against them in the regular season (.656 OPS) after a reverse split had been an issue in previous years. Montgomery has a solid if not explosive fastball that he is doing a better job locating down in the zone, and his changeup is a swing-and-miss secondary pitch with his curveball emerging as a strong third option. Montgomery was occasionally erratic even in the Arizona Fall League, but on the whole his stuff is getting continuously more refined and he may not be as far away from big league ready as his regular season numbers would suggest.
Montgomery still has a chance to start, but considering he is 24 years old with plenty of depth ahead of him, the Rays are going to be tempted to call him up in an Alex Torres-esque relief role if he starts off strongly in 2014. Montgomery may not have quite as effective of a fastball as Torres does, but with a changeup that is just as good and a solid third pitch in his curveball, Montgomery has the ability to be extremely effective in short stints even if starting games is not a possibility. While the Rays almost surely will continue to look at Montgomery as a starting pitcher, Montgomery could be the Rays’ first option from Triple-A for a long relief role. Torres began in that type of role before pitching well enough to earn time in higher leverage spots, and Montgomery could be a candidate to walk down that same road.