Few players have had a more unusual path to the cusp of the big leagues than Rafael Montero. Signed as a 20-year-old out of the Dominican Republic, four years after many of his countrymen, Montero made up for lost time by blitzing from the Dominican Summer League in 2011 to Triple-A in just two years.
An astute signing by Mets scouts Rafael Perez, Ismael Cruz and Gerardo Cabrera, Montero signed for just $80,000 because he was so much older than the typical Dominican pitching prospect.
For someone who was pitching Class A in 2012, Montero is actually quite seasoned. He now has 24 starts in the Triple-A Pacific Coast League, one of the toughest environments for pitchers. In 13 home starts at Las Vegas, Montero has a 3.18 ERA with 2.5 walks and 8.6 strikeouts per nine innings.
The Mets announced that Montero will make his big league debut on Wednesday, a move that will push Jenrry Mejia to the bullpen. New York has invited Montero to big league spring training in each of the past two seasons—despite the fact he doesn’t need to be protected on the 40-man roster until after 2014—and he’s coming off a 156-inning campaign in the high minors in 2013, so he’s more stretched out than many 23-year-olds.
Montero has achieved minor league success with solid-but-unspectacular stuff. He doesn’t have a plus pitch, but at his best he has three average pitches he can throw with above-average control and average command—and very few minor league pitchers have present average command.
Over the last few weeks, Montero hasn’t been as fine with his control as he usually is. Pitching from the extreme glove-side of the rubber, he’s generally able to locate his fastball to both the arm and glove side of the plate with some sink. He’s shown the ability to cut his fastball to give hitters another look. But recently he’s been missing his target, never badly, but just enough to fail to get the strike zone on pitches that usually catch the black. Even in his last outing, where he allowed no hits in 5 1/3 innings, he would have had a more dominant outing if the umpire had a slightly more generous strike zone.
Montero’s average changeup is good enough to keep lefthanders honest, but his long-term development will revolve around how his slider develops. At its best, it’s a solid-average pitch, but it’s more erratic than his changeup.
What To Expect
Given his excellent control and three average pitches, Montero’s strengths are a better fit as a starter than a reliever. Like all rookie pitchers, however, he represents a high-risk, high-reward proposition for your fantasy team.
Montero may face an adjustment period at the outset of his big league career, but over the course of the season, he should be a starter whose strong command should allow him to help a fantasy team in WHIP, while not hurting a team in ERA. He probably won’t pile up all that many wins or strikeouts, profiling more as a real-life No. 4 starter.