Last season, Alex Torres burst on to the big league scene with a 1.71 ERA, 9.6 K/9, and 3.1 BB/9 as a reliever with the Tampa Bay Rays. Previously one of the Rays’ top starting prospects, Torres was converted to relief after a big league call-up in 2013 and never looked back. Torres was traded to the San Diego Padres in the offseason, which was a significant loss for the Rays. However, the presence of Mike Montgomery helped make this loss acceptable. Montgomery serves as short-term depth, but he also has the chance to be just as good as Torres was last season.
Montgomery used to be one of the top starting pitching prospects in all of baseball, and was even ranked the number 23 prospect by Baseball America prior to the 2012 season. However, his stuff had completely fallen off of the table since then, and he has posted an unsightly 5.45 ERA in the last three years. Torres had his fair share of struggles as well, and while they weren’t as long as Montgomery’s, Torres is a good example of how a prospect can turn things around. Where they are even more similar is that Montgomery seemingly regained some of his old stuff out of the bullpen in the Arizona Fall League last year, just like Torres regained his stuff in winter ball prior to the 2013 season. Montgomery’s changeup looked like the plus pitch that it once was, and his fastball reached into the 92-94 MPH range after sitting at 89-91 the last couple of years. Thanks to him regaining a portion of his old form, Montgomery managed a 2.57 ERA and a 1.14 WHIP against some of the best competition in the minor leagues.
Now the key to Montgomery being promoted becomes him sustaining performance for a couple of months in Triple-A. He looked great in his first start, allowing no runs and striking out seven batters, and he is hoping to carry that momentum further into the season. Last year it took Torres nine starts of 3.52 ERA ball to get called up to the big leagues in a relief role. If Montgomery puts up similar numbers, we could very well see him in the big leagues in that time frame, especially if an injury were to occur in the big league bullpen.
If Montgomery did indeed reach a big league relief role in the near future, would he be able to perform? His stuff dialed up in the bullpen in the AFL last season, and it could very well do the same if he were again moved to the bullpen. His fastball-changeup combination can be lethal when it is at its best, and part of what has held him back as a starter is his mediocre curveball. Moving to the bullpen would allow him to focus on using just his fastball and changeup, which would play well in the big leagues if his stuff can be like it was in the AFL. Also going for Montgomery is the fact that he would only have to face hitters one time out of the bullpen rather than multiple times as a starter. Of course, there is no guarantee that his stuff will be as good as it was in the AFL last season, but if it can be then Montgomery could become a successful middle reliever for the Rays by the middle of this season.
Mike Montgomery is not a sure thing, but the Rays have faith in him. A strong AFL in which he regained his stuff led to the Rays being more comfortable trading Alex Torres this offseason. Thanks to Montgomery’s presence, the Rays were able to acquire Logan Forsythe, Brad Boxberger, Matt Andriese, Matt Lollis, and Maxx Tissenbaum. For now, Montgomery is just sitting in Triple-A as depth, but soon, he could establish himself as a key part of the Rays’ bullpen for years to come.