AA: @ Binghamton Mets 5, Akron Aeros (CLE) 2
Tuesday’s games are already in progress, but I wanted to point out a few things from Monday night’s AA game.
- Rafael Montero (4-3, 3.47): 6 IP, 8 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 0 BB, 6 K… 67% strikes (66 strikes/98 total pitches). This is sort of what I expected a standard Montero start to look like in AA. Lots of strikes, but contact and hits allowed. After a .277 BABIP in April led to a .188/.212/.257 opponents’ line, a .345 BABIP in three May starts has led to a .269/.296/.385 performance. We’re into SSS territory here, but the numbers suggest more solid contact against him. Also, his strikeout rate has dropped from 33% in April to 23% in May.
- RF Cesar Puello (.281/.349/.510 – 28 games) homered again, his fifth. I’m basically a believer in Puello. He has a big league body with speed and strength. He’ll be a big leaguer. The question is whether he’ll be a good one; to become that, he’ll need to improve on his 5.7% walk rate. We discussed this on the forthcoming Mostly Mets Podcast, but he’s one of only two outfielders currently playing in full-season ball for the Mets that I could reasonably believe could become an everyday regular.
- Jeffrey Walters: 1 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 1 BB, 1 K. Now up to 14.2 IP, 4 BB and 13 K. His ERA of 0.61 is out-performing his peripherals some as he’s fanned 22% of opposing batters, which is good but not dominant while walking 8.4%. He has a good arm, and might be a middle reliever in the end.
AAA: @ Las Vegas 51s 3, Round Rock Express (TEX) 2
The 51s scored the winning run in the bottom of the ninth when Reese Havens singled, went to second on a Josh Satin groundout and then pinch-runner Brian Bixler came home on a throwing error on the Round Rock catcher.
Havens, for what it’s worth, lined up at second while Wilmer Flores DHed. Now 26, Havens is hitting .276/.358/.362 in 21 games with three extra-base hits. After striking out in 29% of his plate appearances last year in AA, Havens has cut that down to 13% this year with eight walks and nine strikeouts. The extra contact has come at the expense of his power – after a .136 isolated slugging percentage last year in Binghamton, he’s down to .081 this year in AAA. The odds of his being a productive MLB player – extremely slim.
Collin McHugh was the real story of the game for the 51s: 7 IP, 5 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 5 K. McHugh has run a 2.98 ERA to go along with a 4.4 K/BB rate (31 K/7 BB) in 42.1 innings this year. That’s a 18% strikeout rate and a 4% walk rate. Last year, in 21.1 innings, in the big leagues, he fanned 17% of opposing batters, walked 8% and gave up 27 hits and five homeruns in 21.1 IP. The Mets have needs in the rotation: Dillon Gee owns an ERA over six and Shaun Marcum raises him an ERA over seven. Even if it’s not to replace one of those two, it seems likely that McHugh will get another chance to prove his savvy, control (and short fastball) play in the big leagues and not just AAA at some point in 2013. One of my mottos: “Pitchers break – it’s what they do.”
AA: @ Trenton Thunder (NYY) 5, Binghamton Mets 1
The two best things going for the B-Mets, Rafael Montero and RF Cesar Puello were at it again for the AA squad.
Montero through six innings: 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 8 K. He allowed a walk and a pair of singles in the seventh to allow two runs, and then Josh Edgin gave up a walk and a run-scoring triple to yield one of the runners Montero bequeathed him in a four-run frame. Montero’s final line: 6.1 IP, 3 H, 3 R, 3 ER, 2 BB, 8 K. He threw 73% of his pitches (68 of 93) for strikes. In 40.2 innings this year, Montero has fanned 48 and walked six for a K/BB of eight, which is almost off the charts.
Longtime Trenton writer Jed Weisberger was impressed. He tweeted: “Must say Rafael Montero is the most impressive pitcher I have seen in the Eastern League this year so far. Such an easy motion. Command cool.” His note from early in the game: “Montero displaying smooth, easy delivery. Hits edges well. Fastball 91-92. Superb command. Scoreless in Trenton after 1.” That all sounds about right. Montero has an average fastball that plays up because he can spot up. Such an ordinary offering – in terms of velocity – puts significant pressure on the development of his secondary offerings, first and foremost, his slider.
The B-Mets’ offense, held to just three hits, was quiet again. Puello accounted for all of the team’s scoring with a solo homer to left, his second long ball of the season. He’s now hit safely in 14 straight games, the longest active streak in AA and the second-longest of his career behind a 15-gamer he had with the Gnats in 2010. He’s now sitting at .286/.353/.455 in 22 games in AA at age 22. It’s worth pointing out that Puello’s days in centerfield really seem to be done. He played right while Darrell Ceciliani played center. Puello has not played an inning in center this year. Last year, the average for MLB rightfielders (.262/.327/.434) was barely more productive than centerfielders (.265/.330/.418). This year, and it’s still early, CF actually have a one point advantage in on-base percentage and a nine point slugging advantage over their counterparts in right. Rightfielder’s slugging in 2013 has fallen behind 1B, LF, CF, 3B and C (!). Again, it’s early, but what’s going on here?
AAA: Las Vegas 51s 14, @ Reno Aces (AZ) 8
The 51s rapped out 20 hits in this one in the Sierra Nevada mountains.
C Juan Centeno was 4-for-5 with two doubles and a walk to lead the way. He had two hits in his first four games in AAA.
Carlos Torres gave the 51s 5.1 solid innings (3 R, 1 ER, 2 BB, 4 K).
AA: Erie Seasolves (DET) 11, @ Binghamton Mets 4
Rafael Montero had his roughest outing to the year: 6.2 IP, 10 H, 10 R, 7 ER, 1 BB, 5 K, 1 HR. He threw 72% strikes (66 of 92) but was hurt in the zone as his ERA rose from 1.95 to 3.41 after six starts in AA. Guess he’s not ready for the big leagues yet.
Hudson Belinsky, who writes at Prospect Insider, (and other places) noted that Montero did not throw his slider much. His tweet: “Montero only showed the slider a handful of times early. Definitely a weapon. Interesting arm, not sure the ceiling is huge.”
Offensively, the “catchers” combined for five of the B-Mets’ 10 hits. C Francisco Pena was 3-4 with two doubles and 2 RBI. He’s been in the system for six years now, and is still only 23 and hitting a little – .311/.360/.422 in 13 games in AA with four walks and one strikeout. DH Blake Forsythe was 2-for-4 with another double and a strikeout to push his season line ot .347/.411/.653 in 14 games. Ten of his 17 hits have gone for extra bases.
In the Daily News this morning, Andy Martino catches up with Mets VP of Amateur Scouting and Player Development Paul dePodesta about Rafael Montero.
Montero made four starts above A-ball with AA Binghamton. They’ve been four terrific starts. He’s 3-0 with a 1.59 ERA with 27 strikeouts against one (!) walk in 22.2 innings with just 15 hits allowed and a .183 opponents’ batting average. He’s fourth in the Eastern League in ERA, tops in WHIP (0.71), with the lowest walk rate among starters by innings pitched and is tied for fourth in strikeouts.
Generally, players who have made four appearances above a-ball do not have much success in the big leagues. And no, Jose Fernandez, who has two plus pitches right now – fastball and slider – is not a good comparison for Montero. dePodesta made this point, about the value of minor league innings for Montero explicitly:
“With a guy in his position — we’re talking about like four starts in Double-A — we really don’t talk about the future with those guys, in terms of the ultimate future,” DePodesta says.
“The future is more like, ‘OK, what are we going to work on in your next start, or your next handful of starts?’ We really try to keep those guys in the present. He just needs more experience at this point, and I don’t think we have an idea right now in terms of time frames, or where he falls on a depth chart. That’s not something we’re concerned about.”
Still, if he’s going to get big league hitters out, based on what I saw in spring training he needs to improve his slider.
dePodesta seems to agree.
On what Montero needs to improve:
“His fastball is very advanced right now, but the secondary pitches need to continue to get better.”
One final point that I think is important. When asked to cite examples of pitchers who have skipped AAA successfully, dePodesta cited Jonathan Broxton – a reliever. I think this is telling. I suspect that because the Mets see Montero as a starter, they would be more unwilling to skip him over AAA.
AA: Binghamton Mets 3, @ New Hampshire Fisher Cats (TOR) 0
Rafael Montero (pictured) was effective again: 6 IP, 4 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 6 K. Once again, he threw lots of strikes – 68% (65 of 95).
His four-start line: 1.59 ERA, 22.2 IP, 15 H, 4 R, 4 ER, 1 HR, 1 BB, 27 K, .183 opponents’ average. He’s the owner of a 1% walk rate and a 32% strikeout rate. That’s a pretty remarkable four-start run for the 22-year old.
LHP Jack Leathersich followed Montero with two scoreless innings with two more walks and four more strikeouts. In 7.2 innings, he’s walked 7 and fanned 12. The more important number is the walks. That’s not going to work.
SS Wilfredo Tovar (.173/.232/.231 – 16 G) was 2-for-4 with two doubles, lifting his season doubles total to three, and coming up with his second two-hit game of the year.
RF Cory Vaughn homered for the second straight night, his third homer in his last six games to push his season line to .275/.351/.529 with six extra-base hits, six walks and 17 whiffs in 14 games. Vaughn’s buddy, LF Darrell Ceciliani reached base four times, going 2-for-2 with two walks, an stolen base. The free passes were numbers two and three for him in his 14th game and lifted his season average to .222/.276/.296.
- Baseball America is out with their first Hot Sheet of 2013 and Rafael Montero has made the “In the Team Photo Section.” J.J. Cooper’s comment in part: “In his first two starts for Double-A Binghamton, Montero dominated, showing the stuff to be a potential mid-rotation starter with good control and solid stuff across the board. …”
- Montero’s two good starts also land him atop Carson Cistulli’s Eastern League SCOUT leaderboards at FanGraphs (where he regresses walk and strikeout rates) for the Eastern League. Chris Walendin, who posts in the comment section as theperfectgame, also names Montero his Mets’ pitching prospect of the week on his blog, and selects Sand Gnats C Kevin Plawecki as his position player of the week.
- Cistulli’s SCOUT system was also impressed by Wilmer Flores’ first week in the PCL. Although he did not hit for average, he walked and did not strike out.
- AA Manager Pedro Lopez tells Lynn Worthy he’s going to have a new, more hands-on approach in AA this year, his second year at the level.
My biggest mistake last year was that I thought — and I assumed — that some of the guys I had the last year in A-ball, they already had their routines, whether that’s offensively or defensively….
This year is going to be different. This year I’m going to be more demanding. I’m not going to assume that they know what they need to do, so guess what — since day one we’re going to work. It’s all about getting better and winning ballgames. I think looking back at last year’s season, we lost a lot of ballgames just because we didn’t play fundamentally sound. So we’re going to work. We’re going to work and we’re going to get better, and hopefully that translates into wins.
The real goal, even in AA is development. Winning is still secondary, but ideally, a nice by-product of successful player development. But if mistakes are costing a team wins in AA, those same mistakes would presumably cost their big league team as well.
AA: @ Erie SeaWolves 2, Binghamton Mets 1
Things can change quickly in a year. At this time in 2012, just a year ago, Rafael Montero was making his second start for Savannah, in a-ball after 11 starts in short season leagues – in the Gulf Coast League and the Appy League in 2011. Now, he’s rolling in AA. His line Tuesday: 6 IP, 6 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 0 BB, 7 K. In two starts this year in AA, he’s fanned 15 and HAS NOT WALKED a batter while throwing 72% of his pitches (126 of 176) for strikes.
At the beginning of 2012, Montero was primarily a fastball/changeup guy. His slider improved over the year, and he was clearly working on it in spring training, although the action and location on the pitch is inconsistent.
Fans in last night’s game thread are already asking about a promotion (both to AAA and the big leagues). Hold on. The Mets have moved the now 22-year old Montero as quickly as any pitching prospect in the system. He made 12 starts in Savannah and eight in the Florida State League. This is essentially the same rate through as the “polished” collegiate arms the Mets have drafted in the first four rounds: Cory Mazzoni made 12 starts in St. Lucie at the start of the 2012 season; Logan Verrett made six and Tyler Pill made 10 starts at advanced-A at the end of 2012. Montero is not going anywhere for a while. He still needs to work on his slider. If he’s pitching lights out, there’s no reason he cannot earn a mid-season promotion to AAA, but that’s a problem for July – most likely after a dozen starts minimum in AA.
RF Cesar Puello was 2-for-3 with a strikeout and is now 5-for-16 (.313) with two walks and five strikeouts after five games.
CF Alonzo Harris extended his season-opening hitting streak to six games by going 1-for-4 with a stolen base, his first of 2013. Harris has four extra-base hits to Puello’s one.
AA: Binghamton Mets 2, @ Akron Aeros (CLE) 1
Well, hot damn Rafael Montero: 5.2 IP, 2 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 0 BB, 8 K.
He threw 75% (!) of his pitches (63 of 84) for strikes. That’s just nuts. Cliff Lee led qualified MLB starters in 2012 at 70% and there were only five pitchers above 66%. The too numbers are not identical, as Montero’s strike percentage would probably decline against MLB’s more disciplined hitters, but that does not minimize his remarkable command now.
Where the OF are:
CF Alonzo Harris (1-4, 2B)
DH Darrell Ceciliani (0-4)
LF Cory Vaughn (0-3, BB, K)
RF Cesar Puello (1-3, BB).
I think it’s fascinating that Harris started in center over Puello and Ceciliani. It’s only one game, but it is the season’s first game which seems like it carries a smidge of extra weight.
We’re into the meat of the Top 10 here. These are two good arms.
#8 – RHP Jacob deGrom
Height/Weight: 6’4”, 185 lbs
Acquired: 9th rd ’10 (Stetson U
Born: 6/19/88 (Deland, FL)
2012 Rank: NR
Why Ranked Here: deGrom moves from unranked to Top 10 because he has a great arm. In fact, the specific reason that he moves in front of Montero is that he has a better fastball. He also has a better pitcher’s body, long and lean at 6’4” compared to Montero’s 6’ frame. DeGrom sits 92-96 with real sink out of a nice, easy motion. He told me in spring training that he really picked up his two-seamer when he was rehabbing from Tommy John surgery in Port St. Lucie and got to throw with Johan Santana. Later in his time in Savannah, deGrom began throwing his four-seamer more to spot up, and get in to lefties. As I wrote last summer, “at times, he’s shown a usable changeup and slider, while in other starts, he’s struggled with feel on his breaking stuff and pitched almost exclusively off his heat.”
If he can improve his secondary offerings to MLB average – no easy feat of course, he can be a starter for me. Otherwise, he’s a really nice hard-throwing reliever. He seems to have a really good feel for the ball out of his hand.
deGrom showed up at Spring Training with a broken finger in his non-throwing hand from an accident working with cattle at his off-season job, but it did not dramatically affect his 2013 preparations.
2012: A revelation. deGrom’s sinker produced an awful lot of weak contact. He allowed under eight hits per nine innings pitched in Savannah and just 14 hits in 21.2 innings the FSL. Even among those few hits, guys just did not square up his heat very much. It seemed like a few times a game, a slow roller or a bloop would find a hole in the expansive Grayson Stadium outfield.
Dr. Pangloss Says: If his slider and changeup come along, he could make an All-Star game as a starter.
Debbie Downer Says: Hard-throwing reliever who generates strikeouts and grounders.
Projected 2013 Start: Advanced-A St. Lucie. If he’s there in July, something went wrong.
MLB Arrival: Late 2015/Early 2016 depending on MLB needs
#9 – RHP Rafael Montero
Height/Weight: 6’0”, 185
Acquired: NDFA 1/20/11
Born: 10/17/90 (Higuerito, Banico, DR)
2012 Rank: #38 | Stats
Why Ranked Here: How does one rise 29 spots up the rankings in a year? Montero did it by blowing through both a-ball levels, earning the Mets’ organization Sterling Pitcher of the Year in the process. And as always in a-ball, the way Montero succeeded was as important as the fact that he succeeded.
He works of a fastball that’s a tick better than Major League average. He sits 92-93 and can touch 94. The fastball was too much for a-ball hitters because he could locate to both sides of the plate and even elevate when he wanted to change a hitter’s eye level. It’s not an ace-level fastball, but it’s plenty to get to the big leagues.
At the beginning of the 2012 season, Montero’s changeup was his primary offspeed weapon. He has good arm action on the pitch and a little fade although not much depth. He throws the pitch 84-86 mph.
His slider made progress in 2012 from “non-factor” to “decent weapon in a-ball.” I saw him working on the pitch in game action in Spring Training 2013. It was 80-81 with a short break. His command of the offering is just ok, and there’s nothing special about it from a MLB perspective at this time. If he’s going to make it as a starter, his slider must continue to develop. Also, the record on 6’ righthanded starters putting together long big league careers is just poor. Montero has a lot of history working against him.
2012: Montero just threw a crazy number of strikes in the South Atlantic League. I think to some degree he figured out that even if they made contact, A-ball hitters were not going to hurt him in Historic Grayson Stadium even if they did make contact. He walked just eight guys in 71.3 innings – that’s just nuts. In the Florida State League, his walk rate jumped from 2.8% to 5.7%, but his strikeout rate hopped with it, from 18.9% in the SAL to 29%. That seems like a very worthwhile tradeoff and in part it speaks to the development of his slider.
Dr. Pangloss Says: Mid-rotation starter
Debbie Downer Says: Back end starter/Middle reliever
Projected 2013 Start: AA Binghamton
MLB Arrival: Late 2014 at earliest; 2015 more likely.
Rafael Montero threw two solid innings for the Mets in a 4-4 Spring Training tie in 10 innings on Thursday in Viera against the Nationals in his spring training debut for the big club. The 22-year old still has not thrown a pitch in double-A.
On Thursday, against Steven Strasburg, he was the best thing the Mets had going. In his two innings of work, Montero allowed one run, on three hits, all doubles, did not walk a batter and did not strike out one either. By my count, 24 of his 41 pitches were strikes, a rate of 58.5%.
Montero, whose best attribute is his command, was not at his best on Thursday. He went to two-ball counts on each of the first three hitters he faced and seven of his nine adversaries overall. In the first inning he was 92-94 mph with his heater. In the second inning, he was 92-93 with one 90 and one 94 offering each.
After the game, manager Terry Collins said he liked the way that Montero “pounded the strike zone.” Collins also praised Montero’s stuff, poise and demeanor.
From the other dugout, Nationals manager Davey Johnson agreed saying succinctly, “He threw the ball good.”
At the beginning of the 2012 season, Montero’s primary secondary offering was his changeup, which he used relatively sparingly against the Nats. He has good feel for the pitch from 84-86 mph and used it in three different counts (that I have notes on): at 1-1 to Denard Span in the first inning, at 0-2 to Adam LaRoche in the first inning and at 1-0 to Anthony Rendon in the second. His slider was his primary offspeed weapon Thursday. The pitch was 80-81 most of the time, with a short break. He hit 83 on an offering in the dirt, has come a long, long way in the last year, but still has some ways to go.
Rendon, who Baseball America ranked as the Nats’ top prospect, doubled off Montero in the second run to drive in the Nationals run. Even he was impressed. “Good stuff,” he said of Montero. The “ball jumps out of his hand.” Of Montero’s slider, which he saw on the first pitch of his at bat for a ball, he pointed to a deceptive release, it “came out of his hand just like his fastball. … It was really good.”
You know who is ridiculously good? Steven Strasburg. He was sitting 95-96 with his fastball a vicious curve at 78-80 mph and a changeup that dives like a splitter at 86-87 mph. This is not breaking new ground, but the dude, who struck out six Mets in three innings of work, is really fun to watch. Also, Strasburg’s command is strong (like puts Wheeler to shame): two of his strikeouts – of Omar Quintanilla in the second inning and Collin Cowgill in the third – came on just three pitches.
Nice stuff from Jorge Castillo in the Star-Ledger about Montero’s unusual route to the Mets, from leaving his family behind to his late signing age (20).
Other Mets Good Thursday:
- Travis d’Arnaud hit a pair of balls hard – one a clean single into left, and another that Ian Desmond at short oled into a double.
- Jordany Valdespin started at second and produced a pair of singles.