MESA, Ariz.—The Athletics knew they were getting a promising power arm when acquiring Frankie Montas as part of the return for trading lefthander Rich Hill and outfielder Josh Reddick to the Dodgers. In his second trip to the Arizona Fall League in the past three years, Montas has been all that the A’s expected—and then some.
After what is likely to be his final AFL appearance of the season on Monday, Montas has turned in an ERA of 0.53, WHIP of 0.88 and an opponent average of .132 in 17 innings. He didn’t give up an earned run until his final appearance and contributed three innings in a combined no-hitter twirled by three Mesa Solar Sox pitchers, including Athletics teammate Dylan Covey, on Nov. 1.
As one scout from an American League organization said, “His stuff has been gold.”
A triple-digit fastball is usually enough of a gold star to put on a young pitcher’s report card, but Montas’ other standout attribute may be something that’s not always evident to those watching him from the stands—his off-the-charts makeup.
A native of the Dominican Republic, Montas has made it a priority to learn English, even to the point of insisting on doing media interviews in his second language. He’s a fluent English speaker.
“It all falls into all aspects of how he approaches himself as a professional,” said Keith Lieppman, Oakland’s farm director. “Everything he does is with intent and purpose, that’s part of it. The ability just to not have that barrier with the language and his openness to want to get better, it’s something that we’ve all noticed.”
Montas’ plus makeup also shows up in his dedication to conditioning his naturally large body. Listed at 6-feet-2 and 255 pounds, it goes without saying that Montas is a big-bodied guy who needs to continually watch his weight. Right now he’s in the best shape of his career. Even before joining the A’s organization, Montas was making it a point to improve his conditioning and he believes it all starts with what he eats.
“Just trying to eat better,” Montas said. “I feel like that’s the key for me. Eat better, eat healthy . . . I feel better, my body feels better when I eat healthy . . . I don’t eat fast food any more, trying to eat vegetables. I eat the same portion but of healthy stuff. It’s working.”
Montas was recovering from a rib injury when traded to Oakland on July 31, and he headed right into the Athletics’ injury rehab program.
“He spent the first few months with us just in rehab,” Lieppman said. “By talking to our people and getting a sense of rehab, he learned to really condition himself. He embraced it . . . He bought into that they (Oakland’s strength coach Josh Cuffe and rehab coordinator Nate Brooks) were telling him about longevity and his career and potential injuries. That all played together. He understood and embraced it and made it happen. He’s in great shape right now and I think he has a good plan for the offseason.”
Montas came to the AFL primarily to make up for innings lost during the regular season due to the rib injury, when he only got into only 16 innings combined between the Dodgers’ Double-A and Triple-A affiliates.
The jewel of his arsenal is his plus-plus fastball that has been sitting 96-100 mph in the AFL with multiple reports that he touched 102 in one of his outings. He also has an above-average hard slider with good depth that flashes as a plus offering, typically sitting 87-92 mph. Montas doesn’t often use his high-80s changeup but it’s something that he has been working on during his AFL time. In fact, one of his primary goals for this fall was to improve the quality and command of his secondary pitches.
“My slider, it’s working really well and (I’m) getting some swings-and-misses from my changeup, too,” Montas said. “(It’s) getting better with the right speed that I want to throw it.”
That’s consistent with the instructions relayed by the Oakland brass to the Solar Sox coaching staff.
“They would like him to develop more consistent off-speed stuff, a changeup, basically,” said Mesa pitching coach Brian Lawrence, representing the Cubs organization. “To be able to use those and have confidence in them along with feel for the fastball.”
A power pitcher with secondary pitches still a work-in-progress and developing command, such as Montas, is always faced with the question as to whether he’d be more effective pitching out of the back of the bullpen instead of in the starting rotation. Ask Montas that question and he’ll say that he just wants to be out on the mound, and it doesn’t matter whether it’s in the first inning or in the ninth.
But the Athletics plan to give him every chance to remain as a starting pitcher and are optimistic that he can handle that role.
“He located his fastball, especially to the glove side, ” Lieppman said. “For the most part, (he’s been) down in the zone, pitched inside and used his changeup and a very sharp slider, and really has a nice mix. We’ll continue to run him out there as a starter . . . it’s nice to have somebody that you can dream about as a power starter (who) has that kind of stuff.”
With this kind of potential, it’s hard to believe that Montas has already been traded three times since first pitching in the Red Sox organization in 2010. He spent three-and-a-half years with the Red Sox before heading to the White Sox as part of the three-team deal that sent Jake Peavy to Boston, then after two-and-a-half years in the White Sox organization, he was bundled in a package to the Dodgers in the three-team trade highlighted by the swap of Todd Frazier from the Reds to the White Sox. His stay with the Dodgers lasted less than a year before he moved on to Oakland.
Being traded is now becoming old hat to Montas.
“The hardest one was the first time when I got traded to the White Sox,” Montas said. “It was hard for me because I left all my friends that I had in Boston and I had to start making new friends with the White Sox. The second time wasn’t that hard for me because I knew what I needed to do—just get there, try to get some friends as quick as possible—and the third time I made friends really quick.”
Spend just a few minutes with the personable Montas and you’ll quickly see why he has no problem making new friends.
The annual Arizona Fall League Championship Game will be held on Nov. 19 at 3:08 p.m. ET, and televised nationally on MLB Network and streamed on MLB.com.