For years and years, lefty Mike Montgomery was right there among the best pitching prospects in baseball. Armed with a blistering mid-90’s fastball, a dynamite changeup, and a curveball that had its moments, Montgomery blew away opposing hitters in his first three seasons in the minor leagues as he worked his way from Rookie ball all the way to Double-A from 2008 to 2010, going 15-10 with a 2.27 ERA, an 8.1 K/9, a 2.9 BB/9, and a 0.3 HR/9 in 245.2 innings pitched. After achieving that level of success, Montgomery was expected to ascend to the major leagues and quickly develop into an ace. But the last two years have been a humbling experience for Montgomery. In 300.1 innings between Double-A and Triple-A, he has fallen apart to the tune of 10-23 record, a 5.69 ERA, a 7.2 K/9, a 4.0 BB/9, and a 1.2 HR/9. Instead of becoming the frontline starter the Royals had been waiting for, Montgomery turned into a major disappointment and saw his career go backwards. It would be easy to label him a bust after just how high his prospect stock had risen. There’s one problem with saying that- Montgomery is only 23 years old and his career is far from over. And after receiving a change of scenery when he was dealt to the Rays in the James Shields trade, Montgomery will be getting a fresh start and all his potential is still there.
Mike Montgomery had fallen so badly that he had gone from top prospect to essentially a throw-in along with Wil Myers and Jake Odorizzi for James Shields and Wade Davis. Instead of being considered close to a sure bet to contribute in the major leagues, he was termed a “lottery ticket” with tons of upside but a minuscule chance of getting there. But lo and behold, when Joe Maddon talked about the pitchers that impressed him the most at the Rays’ first workout for pitchers and catchers at their spring training home in Port Charlotte, the first name he mentioned was Mike Montgomery. A couple horrific seasons can make you forget just how talented a player truly is. Montgomery got completely out of whack the last two years- but with the Rays working with him to refine his command and find him a more consistent breaking ball, don’t be too shocked if Montgomery bursts onto the scene for the Rays by the end of 2012. The pressure is off Montgomery entirely. The Rays don’t have a need for a starting pitcher right now, and no one’s expecting Montgomery to give the Rays anything at this point. All he has to do is get back on the mound and see whether that same promise that had resounded throughout baseball for years is still attainable for him. Maybe Mike Montgomery will never figure it out as a starting pitcher and face a move to the bullpen in the near future in an attempt to salvage his professional baseball career. Or maybe everything will click for Montgomery and suddenly the Rays’ rotation will feature three dominating lefties: David Price, Matt Moore, and Mike Montgomery.