Las Vegas, Nevada —— On Saturday night, I watched New York Mets right-handed pitching prospect Rafael Montero start a game for the Las Vegas 51s in the Triple-A Pacific Coast League against the Albuquerque Isotopes at Las Vegas’ Cashman Field. Here’s our full report on the hard-throwing righty, who nearly didn’t make this start on account of almost being called up to the majors for a spot start on Sunday.
Rafael Montero scouting report notes
For the first sixteen outs of Saturday night’s game between the Las Vegas 51s and Albuquerque Isotopes, Rafael Montero was lights out—just three walks and no hits, with nine strikeouts to his name and a baffling array of hard, late-breaking stuff that had the Rockies’ Triple-A affiliate on their heels. And then just as quickly as it came together, it all came apart: with the 51s leading 2-0 in the top of the sixth inning, Montero allowed a soft single to Derrik Gibson—no-hitter over.
The very next batter, Rockies outfield prospect Jordan Patterson, slugged a long opposite-field two-run home run—shutout over. And with a reliever warming up in the ‘pen, Rafael Montero’s night was over, too, after tossing 88 pitches (60 strikes) and going from no-hitter to no-decision in warp speed. Baseball can be brutal that way, but in the greater context of what Montero needs to do to get back to the big leagues, Saturday was a step forward, if only to keep his name in the conversation for a possible spot start here or there for the New York Mets.
Last night, Rafael Montero sat 90-94 mph with his fastball, topping out at 95 mph and showing great feel for the pitch to both sides of the plate. He has some natural deception in his delivery, turning his back just a bit on the hitter, and it allows him to keep closed longer to hide his arm action, as well as provide him the ability to run the ball arm-side just a bit harder. He can tie up right-handed hitters with that fastball when it’s down and in (arm-side) to them, because it’ll sink and run with good velocity and can be very difficult to square up.
Montero also flashed an 82-84 mph slider that was very tight, and showed great late downward break. Several years ago, when Montero was still a prospect, his slider was described as “sweeping” but it’s not really that any more. It was—at least last night in Vegas—a wipeout hard breaking ball that dove late and proved tough to pick up. The great downward plane he was able to get on the pitch no doubt contributed to his ability to miss bats with it, and it truly was an impressive offering in just his second Triple-A start of the year. (Montero also flashes a changeup, but it was relatively inconsequential last night compared to his 1-2 punch in the fastball and slider.)
Obviously, the New York Mets have been around the block with Rafael Montero before. He made the Opening Day roster this year and didn’t pitch particularly well out of the bullpen, necessitating his move back to Las Vegas in the first place. And though he was a top-ten team prospect early in his career, those days are long behind him now as he’s seen the big leagues in four different seasons. Very soon, it’ll be time for him to finally stick there, or for the Mets to move on from him.
With the arsenal he flashed on Saturday night, Montero would be a fascinating bullpen candidate to sit in the seventh inning and see where his velocity and pitch life can go if he blows it out for a short stint. …And yet the Mets had him in the bullpen earlier this season, and he gave up 16 hits in 6.2 innings pitched, so the recent track record there is underwhelming.
There are plenty of AAAA guys good enough to pitch their way out of Triple-A who fail to stick in the big leagues. Perhaps that’s the purgatory for which Montero is destined, too. But any Rafael Montero scouting report will also include a note or two about his power arm, hard slider, and great feel for two extremely lively pitches—in other words, the moments and pieces that still flash brilliance here and there to tempt and tantalize.
But the Rafael Montero scouting report must also account for shaky command, as well as the fact that he’s been hit hard in the big leagues. There’s no question time is running out on the right-handed pitcher, at least with the New York Mets. But if the Mets soon give up on him, he’ll undoubtedly get another shot somewhere else in baseball. After all, with an arm this impressive and the flashes of brilliance that occasionally break through, Rafael Montero is at least worth one or two more looks at Triple-A to see if he could one day help a big league club.
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Rafael Montero scouting report: 140 characters or less
A power arm with great life on fastball & slider, Rafael Montero still flashes the brilliance that could make him a big league contributor.