NEW YORK—Righthander Rafael Montero turned 21 in October. He made his pro debut last May after signing with the Mets as an older prospect from the Dominican Republic.
Despite his inexperience on the mound, he possesses a quality that warms the heart of minor league field coordinator Dick Scott.
"First and foremost," Scott said, "the guy throws strikes. He's a strike-throwing machine—which is a beautiful thing."
Through his first 28 innings for low Class A Savannah, Montero had walked only one batter against 21 strikeouts, a rate of 0.33 walks per nine innings that led the South Atlantic League. Part of the Sand Gnats' six-man rotation, he went 2-1, 3.58 through five starts.
"So far this year, he's been really impressive," farm director Adam Wogan said, "especially just from a command standpoint."
Montero breezed through the four lowest levels of the system last year, beginning with a stint in the Rookie-level Dominican Summer League and finishing with playoff-bound Brooklyn of the short-season New York-Penn League.
After a successful instructional league showing last fall, Montero earned a spot in the Savannah rotation. He is, of course, a work in progress.
Montero's smaller stature—6 feet, 170 pounds—suggests a future in the bullpen. His changeup requires refinement. He can flash a quality slider at times, Scott said, but the pitch is inconsistent. "That's just due to his youth and inexperience," he said.
But for now Montero's 93-94 mph fastball is good enough to dominate SAL hitters. A simple, fluid delivery helps him hit the catcher's mitt consistently, team officials say.
"For a young guy, he locates his fastball probably about as well as anybody we have," Scott said. "He just really has a good idea what he wants to do."
• Righthander Matt Harvey allowed 12 runs in his first 13 Triple-A innings but rebounded in his next three starts to strike out 18, walk five and allow 11 hits over 17 innings. Team officials credited improved fastball command for his upswing.
• High Class A St. Lucie outfielder Sean Ratliff, the club's fourth-round pick in 2008, opted to retire after an unsuccessful comeback from the eye injury that cost him all of 2011. A stray foul ball in spring training last year shattered several bones around his right eye.