|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.