Stephen Guilbert - The Case for Rafael Montero

People point to his smaller stature, hand size, and fastball velocity and command as comparative to Pedro Martinez. I much prefer Johnny Cueto as a comparison. 

Rafael Montero has nothing else to prove in the minor leagues. Scouts have raved about his command, motion, repertoire and success in the minors' toughest division and one of its most hitter-friendly parks.

However, Rafael Montero has no spot on the Mets unless he is transitioned to the bullpen.

I am a huge fan of Rafael Montero. You cannot teach body control like Montero's and it manifests with how well he can command his pitches. I am rare in that I see his ceiling being around the same level as Noah Syndergaard's. To clarify, I think Thor is the better prospect. However, I think Montero's command and control of three average-to-plus pitches could make him a Johnny Cueto-type starter eventually. I think Syndergaard has a similarly high ceiling but a higher floor and better stuff overall, which is why he's the better prospect. He's also younger.

Back to Montero. Rafael Montero is victim of prospect fatigue. Last year, he made just about every top 100 prospect list, was within the top three on many Mets-specific lists and was considered a future rotation mainstay for years. The lists that have come out this spring barely have him in the top eight prospects and certainly will be nowhere to be found on top-100 league-wide lists.

One would think that Montero had an implosion or got very hurt in 2014 but neither happened. In fact, the only thing that worked against him last year was he simply got a year older. For some reason, 24-year-old prospects are rare in the "expert" world and Montero is 24. As a 22/23-year-old handling the PCL, he's a bright prospect. As a 24-year-old who had a predictably rocky cup of MLB coffee and strong handling of the same PCL, he's off the map.

This is silly. Montero did not amaze people at the big league level in 2014 but he had some very nice outings and demonstrated the potential that a pitcher with his command and ability can do. He ran a 4.33 xFIP in the bigs with a 8.54 K/9 with a 3.60 ERA (3.66 FIP) and a 9.00 K/9 in Las Vegas. Those are fine numbers for a young pitcher in the high minors and first taste of the majors. He also uncharacteristically walked many more batters than his career minor league numbers, leading some to believe he was pitching hurt. If the command were better, well, we might be talking about him as part of the untouchable group of Mets arms that won't be moved under any circumstance.

"Prospect fatigue" dictates that people simply got tired writing about him. They wanted to be done with Montero as a "prospect" and consider him a major leaguer. Everyone wanted him to have the season that Jacob deGrom had but we all know that rookie seasons of that nature are rare.

Given the raw ability that Rafael Montero has and how he's pitched in Las Vegas for 170 effective innings already, it would be a crime to send him back there for 2015. There's also no place for him in a Mets rotation that has six starters and Syndergaard ahead of him on the depth chart.

My plan for Montero would be this: Put him on the 25-man roster to start the year if he is healthy and throwing well. The Mets are going to be limiting Harvey's innings and skipping starts. They will also be monitoring Gee and Niese who always have injury issues. Gee might also have a different home in a few weeks. If everyone is healthy, Montero pitches out of the bullpen as this year's Carlos Torres (I don't much care what the Mets do with Torres. He's a fine pitcher and i respect his game but I would much rather develop Montero than keep Torres on the roster). He can spot start, mop up games, or pitch in middle relief. If the bullpen struggles with injuries or performance, his stuff plays up well enough for the late innings as well.

If the rotation gives Montero an opportunity, which, given its history of injuries, is likely, he is right there to step in with valuable experience against major league hitters already under his belt. Given the opportunity, I do believe Montero will massively succeed as a starter. I also think the Mets should build up his value as much as possible. They should remind teams just how good a pitcher he is and how he could slot into just about any rotation right now. Then, you move him for a piece you need mid-season. Maybe it is for that shortstop from the mountainous region of the US who should be unnamed. Maybe it is for dominant lefty reliever or an outfielder.

One of the goals for early-season 2015 should be to get the most out of Rafael Montero. He has too much talent to be wasted in Vegas just because of a roster crunch. Let him take over for Torres. Let him prove his ability. Then, if you have a need, you keep him. If you don't, well then maybe he becomes the centerpiece in that trade for a shortstop instead of a throw-in. A year ago the notion of Montero as a throw-in would be laughable. It should be now. All he did was have another fine year in hitter's paradise in Las Vegas and a common, predictable, rocky first big league experience that also had some moments of brilliance.



Reese Kaplan said...

Given his excellent command I actually think he has a higher ceiling than many more highly regarded people if given the opportunity to throw outside of the pitching hell of Las Vegas.

Anonymous said...

I like him in the pen in 2015, doesn't mean he has to stay there forever.

The two-year contract for Colon was monumentally dumb, let's face it. That the Mets are stuck with him in 2015, at $11 million, is absurd. He's blocking better pitchers and forcing the club into trading better pitchers.

Sandy blew it, spending in the wrong area of positional strength.

James Preller

Thomas Brennan said...

The weird thing is in my prospect rankings (I misfired scheduling the Leathersich one today by the way - only a month or so too soon!), I did not list Montero.

Why? he deserves respect - he threw 44 innings with the Mets last year, so I chose to consider him past the prospect stage. He did fine in 2014, he'll do better in 2015, even if out of the pen. His minor league days should be behind him.

Thomas Brennan said...

Great Montero picture, by the way, Stephen

Anonymous said...

I'm not sure I agree that Colon will be a major block because I don't expect him here past July and he will be valuable in managing the first half innings. Montero suffered prospect fatigue in small part to his early struggles in the Majors and didn't flash dominating stuff. I would prefer to keep him as a starter even in Vegas because I still think that Thor or Wheeler gets moved for a SS, so Montero can slot as an above average #5, but he is not yet fully polished, so I dont think he would be out Colon for the last spot to start the season, but hopefully is ready mid summer when Gee and Colon have been moved and Thor is gone for a top shelf SS

Christopher Soto said...

A few months ago I wrote about how once Montero got up to the major leagues.....his arsenal usage change.

Montero made a living in the minor leagues utilizing his great command and spotting his fastball on the corners 60% of the time. He mixed it up 25% of the time with a dominant change-up that is considered a plus pitch and then to a lesser extent against righties mixed in a slider 15% of the time.

Once Montero was promoted to the bigs this usage percentage suddenly spiked to 70% fastballs 20% sliders and 10% change-ups.....then it swung the other way to 50% fastballs, 30% sliders, and 20% change-ups.

It finally settled back into the normal 60/25/15 split during his final 2 starts of the season where he pitched pretty well.

This tells me that there may have been some direction from the front office to Terry to have Montero showcase each pitch primarily in the game to determine his viability as a candidate for the bullpen.

Christopher Soto said...

his slider is consider to a (50) grade pitch aka average but after seeing it in person during the Cubs game I can see why. Has good break to it.....but its not THAT good....certainly is a hittable pitch.

Stephen Guilbert said...

I actually disagree. It can be absolutely filthy.


No, one instance does not a pattern make, but I've seen him throw that slider that well enough times to think it's better than average. S

Mack Ade said...

This man has too much talent to be sent back to Las Vegas

Lew Rhodes said...

Monterro should start the year in the bullpen - if there becomes a need for him to fill into the rotation, he goes to Vegas for two weeks to lengthen out his innings.

He is too good to waste in Vegas - the Cardinals - who are a pretty good franchise - have been using young pitchers in the pen for years and it has been working great for them.

Even if Colon is around all year - there will be rotation spots next year that Monterro can fill.

Lew Rhodes said...

As far as Colon being a waste of money - let's not undervalue how much having a pitcher whose arm you don't care about be able to throw 7+ innings every 5 days is worth.

Colon's job last year was to throw a lot of innings and protect the young pitchers from over work - he did an excellent job at that.

If he is still on the team in April, he will have the same job this year - eat innings to take stress off the pen and other starters.

Frankly, I would rather keep Colon than Gee because I think Colon is more likely to go out there every 5 days all season long.

chad said...

Montero pitched better in vegas than both syndagaard and degrom, and better than Harvey did in buffalo

the kid should be in the starting rotation, he's better than gee, and colon

Stephen Guilbert said...

chad I agree that he is, but unfortunately the 25-man is seldom made up of the best 25 players available to the team at that time. I wrote a post on Monday about that variance and it's frustrating but I doubt Montero makes another start for the Mets unless big trades happen or big injuries happen.

Anonymous said...

Montero is going to be a big player for the Mets this year.
Either in part of a trade for a SS?
Or as someone who can bridge the gap so that Harvey's innings can be managed. To start the season they should biggy back Montero with Harveys starts

Stephen Guilbert said...

The five best pitchers on the current 40-man are Harvey, Wheeler, deGrom, Syndergaard, and Montero. Matz is 6th only because of his level right now. Niese, Gee, Colon are valuable arms but they are not as talented.

While yea, it's "a good problem to have" I don't want to give starts to pitchers who aren't our best. It will be interesting to see how the Mets handle this. I'm glad I'm not the one tasked with figuring this out.

Christopher Soto said...


I don't know if I would take Montero over Niese or Colon at this stage in his career.

Yes, his upside may be better than those two currently but in terms of who gives me the best chance to win a game April 1st, 2015, I think Colon and Niese both have more value.

Although I do agree that Syndergaard could outpitch all 3 of them tomorrow. I fully expect him to show up in Late June and dominate the way deGrom did this year.

In my opinion, despite the unsexy "traditional" stats in AAA last year, Syndergaard is ready to step into a SP3 role on any MLB team today.

Stephen Guilbert said...

I understand but disagree. Montero gives me a better chance at a win than Colon or Niese. The reason I keep Niese in the rotation instead of Montero is simply because he's a lefty and you still need a lefty in today's game. Of the three righties, Montero is the best and since Thor will be delayed, if I had free reign, Montero is my 5th starter out of the gate.

Christopher Soto said...

@James Preller

I too agree that Colon is actually a pretty good value even at $11m this season. 202 Innings in a season are very valuable considering how much Terry works the bullpen.

Of his 31 starts in 2014:
2 shutouts
20 3 runs or fewer outings (Quality Start)
18 outings of 7IP or more.

In fact if you take out his 3 worst starts his ERA was 3.32 aka he was in the Top 30 amongst all SP in the MLB.

Christopher Soto said...


I think what we will see is:

A) a Dillon Gee trade
B) Matt Harvey stay behind in extended ST
C) an Opening Day rotation of Bartolo Colon, Zack Wheeler, Jon Niese, Jacob deGrom, Rafael Montero.

Lew Rhodes said...

No way I take Monterro in April over Niese.

I also don't take him over Colon - not when it is cold, wacky weather and pitchers have a higher chance of injury.

I do put him in the bullpen and use him to cover what would be Harvey's first road start and then keep him in the pen until needed

Honestly - the best way to use Monterro and keep him somewhat stretched out is to have him piggy back with Harvey each start - pull Harvey at 5 and let Monterro pitch the rest.

I just don't think Terry is smart enough to make that work

Lew Rhodes said...

This all assumes the Gee is traded for something of value.

Stephen Guilbert said...

Late in the year I'd be so much a fan of 5 innings of Harvey, 4 of Thor. You preserve both arms, allowing both to pitch (hopefully) deep into October and how fucking scary would that be to opposing teams? Congratulations, you survived Matt Harvey. Here's 98 on the black with a power hook to ease your pain.

Mack's Mets © 2012