I’m going to write at some moderate length about the Mets’ Sterling Award winners at each level of the farm system. In some cases the choice of player intersects with the team’s best prospect, or one of their best prospects, in others it diverges.
The series starts at the top of the farm, where Rafael Montero earned the AAA Las Vegas 51s Sterling Award.
Montero, who will turn 23, has nearly an extremely rapid rise through the Mets’ minor league system. He began 2011 in the Dominican Summer League and has advanced at least two levels in each of his three minor league seasons, including a four-level summer (DSL, GCL, APP, NYP) in 2011. His rise has been extremely brisk
His 2013 in Numbers
Statistically, therere are two things that matter to me in there. After running strikeout rates of 29% and 27% in advanced-A and AA, his strikeout rate declined to 21.5% in AAA. Meanwhile, his walk rate which was 2.8% in the SAL in 2012, and 3.8% in AA, climbed to a career-high 6.9% in AAA. Basically, he’s headed back to league average (~19.4% k rate and 9.1% walk rate in the PCL this year) in these two crucial markers. Two amazing statistical notes: he did not hit a single batter all year, and was charged with just one wild pitch. Those control metrics can get lost in a focus on walks, but the baserunners and extra bases they give an offense should not be ignored.
Montero is a three-pitch guy, fastball, slider and changeup. As a starter, he’s mostly 92-94 mph with his fastball with outstanding control and the ability to get to both sides of the plate. Note that in the Futures’ game over the summer, he averaged 95 mph for seven fastballs. That’s harder than I’ve ever seen him throw as a starter. Subtracting a mile or two for stamina and control takes him to his standard 93 ish range. It’s a little straight, but again, he can spot up with the pitch to make it play.
In the low minors, his second pitch was his changeup. He had good armspeed on it and just enough movement to miss bats. His slider has come along in the last few years from poor to a weapon in ball to a little below big league average when I saw it in spring training (and for two pitches in the futures game). It was short and flat and that more defined movement is progress from the loopier breaking balls of years’ past. He continued to improve the offering all year.
The Mets wanted to see Montero’s progress with his slider and changeup this year. Mets’ VP of Amateur Scouting and Player Development Paul dePodesta in April, ““His fastball is very advanced right now, but the secondary pitches need to continue to get better.”
If Montero was not dominant overall in AAA, he was in August, when he put up a 1.40 ERA and a 37/6 K/BB (6.2) ratio in 38.2 innings with a 25.8% strikeout rate and a 4% walk rate. He was big league ready when the Mets shut him down to manage the jump in his innings on a year-over-year basis.
In a world where Matt Harvey is not ready to go on Opening Day 2014, Montero really might have a chance to win a spot in the Mets’ starting rotation out of Spring Training behind Jon Niese, Zack Wheeler, Jenrry Mejia and Dillon Gee. He could be a league-average starter in the near term and more if his slider continues to progress past average to plus.
However, keeping Montero down in the minors for about a month will buy the Mets an extra year of control on his services by postponing the date he is eligible for free agency. The smart money is on the Mets signing an extra veteran or two, both to add depth for the duration of the year, and postpone Montero’s big league debut and service time clock in 2014.
Montero was a very strong choice for his award.
Other (Good) Choices:
Picking a single MVP in AAA usually going to be an daunting feat. This year, the Las Vegas 51s used 28 position players and 31 pitchers. That’s pretty standard in AAA. Montero made the third-most starts on the 51s, behind only Matt Fox (20 starts; 4.59 ERA) and Chris Schwinden (28 starts; 5.78 ERA).
Zack Wheeler made 13 starts for Las Vegas with a 3.93 ERA, nearly a full run higher than Montero’s, before his big league promotion. Given that Montero threw 20 more innings than Wheeler, and allowed exactly the same number of both earned and unearned runs, he was better. Wheeler’s reward in 2013 was his big league debut and the beginning of big league money.
Among pitchers, Montero was the clear choice.
Montero faced 363 batters in AAA this year. Only a four position players had that many plate appearances for the 51s: Eric Campbell, Wilmer Flores, Jamie Hoffman and Zach Lutz. Flores at .321/.357/.531 in 463 PA, would have been a deserving candidate too. Like Wheeler, his reward was big league time and big league money. Better to leave the minor league award to a deserving minor leaguer.
Baseball America has named Rafael Montero the #1 prospect on this week’s prospect Hot Sheet.
Excerpts from their comment:
The Mets signed him in January 2011 when he was 20—an age that makes him practically ancient in the world of international scouting—but he’s skyrocketed from the Dominican Summer League to Triple-A in just two seasons thanks to his impressive command of a solid arsenal. Little has fazed Montero on that journey, including the hitter-friendly conditions of Las Vegas. … otherwise he overmatched hitters during his two home starts in Las Vegas.
Montero sits in the low 90s and can get up to the mid-90s when he needs it, but it’s the late life and the command of his fastball that makes him so effective. He lacks a wipeout offering among his secondary pitches, so scouts aren’t projecting Montero as a frontline starter, but the stuff and command are there to profile as a steady mid-rotation arm.
C Travis d’Arnaud also shows up in “In the Team Photo.”
And from the chat, a little bit about Wilmer (TRAID/NO TRAID) Flores….
Sam (New York): Thoughts on Wilmer Flores debut? Do the Mets find a place for him next season?
Ben Badler: I like him and I’d like to see him get a chance to play everyday in the big leagues next year, I just don’t know where you can put him if you’re the Mets. Best-case scenario, he performs well the rest of the season and becomes a very attractive, major league-ready trade chip.
AAA: @ Las Vegas 51s 3, New Orleans Zephyrs (MIA) 2
Hey, now, Rafael Montero: 7 IP, 4 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 8 K. The eight strikeouts for Montero were one off a AAA season-high set in his last start. After an ordinary first 10 starts in AAA, Montero’s August has been spectacular: 3 GS, 0.82 ERA, 22 IP, 10 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 1 HR, 2 BB, 21 K. He’s striking out batters at a rate of 27.6% in his last three starts and walking them at a 2.6% rate. After 122 innings a year ago, Montero has thrown 138 this year, so he likely only has another 15-20 to play with before the Mets will shut him down for the year. That, plus the fact that the 22-year old is not on the Mets’ 40-man roster, and will not need to be added for Rule 5 protection for two more years, means he will not get a chance to make his big league debut until next year. Instead, bet on 2014 for Montero.
C Travis d’Arnaud (1-for-3, BB, RBI) is hitting .304/.487/.554 with 21 walks against 12 strikeouts in 19 games in AAA. This is a guy who drew 19 walks in 67 games in Las Vegas when they were a Blue Jays affiliate in 2012. He has addressed the major flaw in his on-field game: his patience at the plate.
RF Kirk Nieuwenhuis had a solid night at the top of the order, going 2-for-4 with a double, a walk and two strikeouts. In 55 games in AAA, the 26-year-old has hit .243/.342/.471 with 30 walks and 59 strikeouts. Nieuwenhuis is playing right while Matt den Dekker patrols center.
AA: Binghamton Mets 9, @ Reading Fightin’ Phils 3
The Binghamton Mets are now a franchise-best 30 games over .500. Which is nice. The B-Mets’ magic number to clinch a playoff berth is just one. Which is also nice.
CF Alonzo Harris had a nice night at the bottom of the Binghamton order, going 3-for-4 with a double. Despite leadoff man speed, the 24-year-old is the owner of a .225/.292/.310 line in 88 games.
SNY.tv was at the Futures Game at Citi Field on Sunday, and spent the day following Noah Syndergaard, Brandon Nimmo, and Rafael Montero. Nimmo, Syndergaard, B-Mets Manager Pedro Lopez, and Team USA Manager Mookie Wilson discuss the their development, and talk about what they need to do in order to get to the big leagues.
Sunday, RHP Rafael Montero and Noah Syndergaard started for World and the US teams in the Futures games. Just a few minutes after their day began, they were done. In All-Star games for pitchers, that’s a good thing.
The massive Syndergaard threw 15 pitches, 11 fastballs, a slider and three curveballs. His fastball was sitting 96 mph. His curves averaged 79 and the slider almost 85. Syndergaard has thrown his curve longer than his slider, which he really began working on last year with Toronto. While the Mets have suggested that the slider will become his primary breaking ball, as he showed when the cameras were rolling, he still is more comfortable with the curveball. It’s a big rolling breaker with lots of both horizontal and vertical movement.
Rafael Montero’s outing was even shorter – he needed nine pitches in his inning: seven fastballs and two sliders. He was throwing harder than I can ever recall seeing him, averaging almost 95 mph. He used to sit 92-93 over the course of a game. His slider has ordinary MLB velocity at 82 mph. It has solid horizontal movement, but it’s “flat” without much depth vertically. It is the development of this pitch that will dictate whether he can be an MLB caliber starter.
Brooks Baseball has player cards for both guys now, so if you want to play around with charts on fewer than 20 pitches, have fun.
What do their performances mean? Not much in practice; they each threw an inning in an exhibition game. The bigger deal was the symbolism of the event with two promising young arms starting Sunday in front of Matt Harvey’s All-Star Game start on Tuesday.
In practice, the more important thing is that Syndergaard return to AA and Montero to AAA and they each keep progressing. Both guys could well be in the rotation by this time next summer. They gave Mets fans a little extra reason to be optimistic about the future but now have to get back to work.
Coverage Other Places
Syndergaard told the Times: “I set a goal at the beginning of the year to make it to the Futures Game and end up in Double-A,” said Syndergaard, who turns 21 next month. “I just had no idea I was going to be here this soon.”
He also seemed to get a kick out of New York City (as quoted by Brian Costa in the WSJ): “”I’m kind of in awe right now,” Syndergaard said. “I’ve never been to a city this big. But it’s been unbelievable. I just can’t wait to hopefully start my pro career here. I can’t imagine. I was just thinking the other night, it feels like a dream walking down Times Square.”
Wisely, Syndergaard promised to study Matt Harvey (as quoted by Anthony McCarron in the NYDN): “I try to be a sponge whenever he’s on the mound,” Syndergaard said. “His mentality on the mound is pretty unbelievable. I’d be pretty scared if I were a hitter.”
Thor liked Citi Field, (as quoted by Mark Herrman in Newsday): ”Awesome. I could definitely get comfortable on that mound.”
RHP Rafael Montero and Noah Syndergaard have been selected to the SiriusXM All-Star Futures Game in NY on Sunday, July 14 at 2 pm. Montero will throw for the World Team and Syndergaard for the U.S. Team.
Brandon Nimmo is one of five “Futures Finalists” that fans can choose among to select the final member of the US team.
I had Montero ranked as my #9 Mets' prospect
in my pre-season rankings.
The pitchers I ranked ahead of Montero were Zack Wheeler, Noah Syndergaard, Michael Fulmer and Jacob deGrom. Wheeler is on the cusp of a big league debut. Syndergaard has performed very well (3.11 ERA, 64 K, 16 BB in 63.2 innings) in advanced-A. Fulmer has been on laid up all season recovering from a torn mesiscus. deGrom is still looking for a reliable off-speed pitch to throw with his power sinker. And then there's Montero, who has been lights out.
Since making a spot start in AAA on May 21, Montero has not allowed a run in AA. His three-start line: 20 IP, 11 H, 4 BB, 18 K.
Montero is a three-pitch guy who lives off of his fastball command while his changeup and slider aspire to consistently MLB average.
If fans want to look ahead, the Mets had Zack Wheeler make 13 AAA
starts before determining that he was ready and Matt Harvey 20
. It seems unlikely that the Mets would have Montero make fewer AAA starts than either Wheeler or Harvey. Thus, expect him to spend, at the very least, the vast majority of the remainder of the minor league season in Las Vegas. However, a September look after the 51s season is certainly within the range of possible outcomes for Montero given continued health and success.
AAA: Las Vegas 51s 2, Fresno Grizzlies (SF) 1
RHP Zack Wheeler put together his first quality start in his three tries since his return from a right shoulder strain. His line: 6 IP, 3 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 1 BB, 6 K. He threw 65% of his pitches for strikes. Wheeler’s line in his last three starts: 15 IP, 12 H, 9 R, 7 ER, 4 HR, 6 BB, 12 K. He’s getting closer, and the Super Two deadline is getting close and the Mets have need in their rotation. However, given that he gave up two homers in each of his last two starts before Saturday, I still think he’ll get a few – like three – more starts for Vegas.
CF Kirk Nieuwenhuis homered again, his eighth in 31 games in AAA. He’s gotten hot in a big way: in his last 11 games, he’s hit .293/.431/.756 with one double and six homers, 10 walks and 10 strikeouts.
A night after getting plunked Friday, 2B Wilmer Flores did not play Saturday.
AA: Binghamton Mets 6, @ New Hampshire Fisher Cats (TOR) 0
Ho-hum, seven more shutout innings for Rafael Montero. His line: 7 IP, 5 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 4 K and 69% strikes (70 of 102). In his two starts back in AA since a solid sport start in AAA, he’s done this: 13 IP, 9 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 3 BB, 12 K. That’s a pretty good way to earn a more lasting assignment to AAA.
2B Danny Muno, snapped a 24-at-bat hitless skid with a three-hit night, including a homer. The 24-year-old is hitting .210/.353/.324 in his first 52 games in AA.
After one homer in the month of May, RF/LF Cory Vaughn equaled that in his first game in June by going 3-for-5 with a double and a homer, his sixth of 2013. Vaughn finished May at .280/.344/.354 with three doubles and one homer and is now hitting .295/.374/.458 just past his 24th birthday.
Sunday: @ Binghamton Mets 5, Portland Sea Dogs 0
Monday: @ Binghamton Mets 6, Portland Sea Dogs 5
Sunday, Rafael Montero, fresh off a fine AAA debut in a spot start, returned to AA and rolled: 6 IP, 4 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 2 BB, 8 K. I thought Montero (pictured) could earn his spot in the Las Vegas rotation with a strong performance last week against Iowa. I was wrong. Again, the Las Vegas rotation still includes D.J. Mitchell, Chris Schwinden and Carlos Torres. What’s important is where the Mets feel Montero is best served developmentally and if the answer is that his slider will benefit most from the buses of the Eastern League so be it.
Monday, the B-Mets won on a wild pitch in the bottom of the ninth to pull into a tie for first place with Portland (although the B-Mets, with two games in hand, and one loss, are percentage points behind the ‘Dogs).
In the win, RHP Jacob deGrom (1-5, 5.29) turned in one of his better outings of the year: 6 IP, 8 H, 2 R, 1 ER, 2 BB, 9 K. That’s a solid way to bounceback off his worst outing of the year, when he allowed seven runs in 4.2 inning in New Britain in his previous starts.
1B Allan Dykstra homered in both B-Mets games this weekend to push his season line to .298/.440/.519 with five homers in 41 games. Dykstra, who turned 26 last week, was acquired in a trade for Eddie Kunz before the 2011 season. He walks a lot – 33 times (20%) and strikes out more 45 times (28%). I’ve had both questions over twitter and email about Dykstra. He’s not the Mets’ first baseman of the future. At 26, he’s already in his prime years, and still in AA. He strikes out way too much. He has size and strength and patience, but he’s slow. His swing is slow, with slow feet in the field and on the base paths. The bottom line is that Major League pitchers would exploit his strikeout tendencies to the point that it would kill any offensive value.
First, Adam Rubin reported that RHP Rafael Montero was headed to AAA Las Vegas.
Then, Lynn Worthy the beat writer for Binghamton’s Press & Sun Bulletin tweeted, “Montero’s Las Vegas start looking like a spot start situation. #BMets expect to have him back in their rotation.”
The Mets pulled this routine earlier this year, promoting RHP Luis Mateo from advanced-A to AA for what was initially called a “spot start.” Mateo came down with elbow discomfort, and has pitched little since.
Anyway, call it whatever you want. If Montero does not fall on his face in his first start or two in AAA, he’s staying. Until Zack Wheeler returns to the AAA rotation (likely Wednesday) Montero is the Mets’ best pitching prospect in the high minors. His development certainly takes precedence over getting any of the following Vegas regulars turns in the rotation: D.J. Mitchell, Chris Schwinden or Carlos Torres.
At the time of his promotion, Montero was 4-3 wit ha 3.47 ERA in 46.2 innings over eight starts this year. He was tied for second in the Eastern League with 54 strikeouts, was third in WHIP (0.99), and had the third-lowest unintentional walk rate in the league 1.16/9 IP.
Montero, my pre-season #9 prospect, has outstanding fastball command that makes his slightly above average fastball at 92-93 mph play up. In the early part of 2012, his changeup was his primary off-speed pitch, but he worked at integrating his slider into his arsenal. By spring training 2013, he was throwing his slider as his secondary offering of choice. In Florida, it looked like a below average pitch. His control and fastball will get him to the big leagues, but to be an impact starter, he is going to have to continue to improve that slider.
Montero was more dominant in April 1.95 ERA, 33% strikeout rate, 11.7 K/BB ratio and 18% hit rate than in May 5.68 ERA, 23% strikeout rate, 6.3 K/BB, 26% hit rate. To some degree, his ERA is driven by an outing on May 1 when he allowed 10 runs, seven earned on 10 hits in 6.2 innings, but well, that happened. He also yielded eight hits in six innings in his last start. For whatever reason, his strikeout rate has dropped and the Eastern League hit him harder, in his last three starts.