Yesterday, the Tampa Bay Rays made their first trade of the offseason when they dealt Cesar Ramos to the Los Angeles Angels in exchange for Mark Sappington. While Ramos had been a decent contributor to the Rays, the left-hander’s upside was limited, and the Rays have plenty of other internal options for the bullpen. Could Ramos’ departure mean that Mike Montgomery finally has the inside track on a big league job?
Montgomery, 25, came to the Rays in the James Shields deal with the Kansas City Royals. A former top prospect gone wrong, Montgomery has been unspectacular in his two seasons in the Rays organization, but he has steadily improved. In his 2013 year with the Triple-A Durham Bulls, Montgomery posted a 4.72 ERA, 6.4 K/9, and 4.0 BB/9 in 20 outings (19 starts). Back at Triple-A this season, Montgomery started off strong, posting a 3.21 ERA through his first 17 starts. After experiencing some elbow soreness and skipping a start, Montgomery then imploded in his final eight starts, raising his ERA to 4.29 on the season.
Despite still having a fairly underwhelming ERA in 2014, Montgomery showed progress for the first time in years. His fastball command improved, and his changeup made strides in becoming more consistent. That improvement is not enough to give Montgomery a starting role with the Rays any time soon barring extreme circumstances, but it could give him a Ramos-like role in 2015.
Montgomery, like Ramos, is a lefty, and he would provide the ability to throw multiple innings in low-leverage situations. Also like Ramos, Montgomery would provide the ability to start in the event of an emergency, similarly to how we saw Ramos used this season when he started seven games for the Rays.
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Montgomery might actually have more upside than Ramos, though. Whereas Ramos’ fastball sits in the 90-92 range at its best, Montgomery would likely be able to dial his fastball up into the mid 90’s if he was put into shorter stints. Though Montgomery’s changeup still has some inconsistency, it can be a solid pitch, and his fastball-changeup combination looks fairly decent in relief. Montgomery could be a setup man some day with some more development, wheras Ramos will always be the seventh man in the bullpen.
Montgomery certainly could fill Ramos’ role and be at least as good, if not better. However, he will face the problem of the Rays having a plethora of bullpen arms. The Rays already could conceivably have 15 pitchers getting a look for seven bullpen spots, and inevitably the team will bring in at least another arm or two on a minor league deal. Alex Colome is a virtual lock for the bullpen, and he has the ability to throw multiple innings as well, although the Rays certainly would wish to use him in higher-leverage situations.
There is certainly a chance that Montgomery could crack the Rays’ bullpen in 2015, and the departure of Ramos opens up a role that Montgomery could fit well. But, the Rays do not necessarily need to have a set longman in the bullpen, and they can just rely on Colome to throw multiple innings if needed. Still, for the first time in his career Montgomery has a legitimate shot at making a big league roster, and we will have to see if he can take that opportunity and run with it.