Rated MLB’s No. 85 Prospect, Rafael Montero Is Still Underrated

An article by posted on January 27, 2014 19 Comments

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Back in November, I wrote a piece here on MMO entitled Montero is Better Than People Think. You can read that post in its entirety below, but it’s nice to see that Montero is starting to get the kind of recognition he deserves.

Montero was recently ranked on MLB’s Top 100 prospect list at No. 85. This ranking is still too low according to MILB.com’s Sam Dykstra. Dykstra states on his blog, MILB Perspective, that Montero was his most underrated prospect in the top 100 list:

Rafael Montero, RHP, Mets – The 23-year-old right-hander moved up from No. 98 to 85 with the new rankings, but I think he could have gone higher. Any talk about Montero, who owns a plus fastball with an improving breaking ball and changeup, starts with his control after he allowed just two walks per nine innings between Double-A Binghamton (66 2/3 innings) and Triple-A Las Vegas (88 2/3 innings) in 2013 to go with an 8.7 K/9. His FIPs (1.88 and 2.87) were equally  impressive, especially considering his work in the Vegas and the PCL which are notoriously tough on pitchers.

I’m not saying Montero deserves a top-50 spot, but I’d take him over Nelson and Trevor Bauer (73) at this point. He could very well be a part of a Mets rotation by year’s end that already features hopeful youths Zack Wheeler and Jenrry Mejia as well as the Tommy-John’d Matt Harvey.

I would have to agree with Dykstra. Players like Montero sometimes get lost in the shuffle of these top prospect lists due to things like projecatbility, body types, and tools. While all of these things are important when evaluating players, good old-fashioned baseball playing ability sometimes takes a back seat to the flashy tools—especially on these lists.

Montero may not be able to throw a 99 mph fastball, and while things like Montero’s size and his velocity keep him buried towards the bottom half of the top 100 list, his pitching ability ranks him among some of the top pitching prospects in the game (see below).

Original Post 11/24 – Montero Is Better than People Think

Rafael Montero is good. This isn’t breaking news. But with how quickly his name comes up in trade talks makes me wonder if people truly understand how good he really is.

Let’s be honest—unless you subscribe to MilbTv, or live in one of the areas where Montero has played the past couple of years, it’s safe to say that most people have never seen him pitch. What they know about Montero comes from the limited footage that can be found on YouTube, or from reading their favorite baseball sites.

I’m here to tell everyone that Montero should not be looked at as a trade chip (unless it’s an offer that the Mets can’t refuse). He’s a keeper.

I’m not going to give an in-depth breakdown of why Montero is so good. Mets fans know what he brings to the table. But what I will do is add some reasons for you to take into consideration that will make you realize that Montero is, in fact, better than we think.

Not wasting any time, let’s look at what Montero did for Las Vegas, last season. As you probably already know, Las Vegas plays their games in the Pacific Coast League (PCL), which is generally known as a “hitter’s league.” When pitchers are assigned to the PCL, they know in advance that their sexy stat lines won’t be so sexy anymore.

Pitching in the PCL can alter the way pitchers pitch. Knowing that it’s a hitter’s paradise, pitchers try to stay away from pitching over the fat parts of the plate. By doing this, they tend to walk more batters. As they walk more batters, they are forced to keep their pitches in the hitter’s red zones, and hitters begin to tee-off. It’s sort of a lose-lose situation. This is something to keep in mind when looking at Zack Wheeler‘s roller coaster performance in Vegas last season.

Speaking of Wheeler, let’s look at what he did last season in Las Vegas. He pitched 68.2 innings, compiling a 9.57 K/9, 3.54 BB/9, 1.18 HR/9, 71.1% LOB, 2.89 BABIP, and 4.04 FIP. The average FIP for a pitcher in Triple-A was 4.31 back in 2012 (2013 number was not available). This average takes into account the International League and the PCL. While the average FIP changes every season, you can see that Wheeler is pretty close to average with regards to his FIP.

Now let’s look at Montero’s numbers from Las Vegas. He pitched in 88.2 innings, compiling a 7.92 K/9, 2.54 BB/9, 0.41 HR/9, 71.8% LOB, .316 BABIP, and 2.87 FIP. According to Fangraphs, 2.9 is an excellent FIP—Montero is slightly below that.  That’s probably based on the major leagues, and Montero put up an excellent FIP in a hitter-happy league. In fact, among pitchers who pitched a minimum of 80 innings in the PCL last season, Montero had the third-best FIP in the league. His FIP was better than prominent pitching prospects Tyler Skaggs, Michael Wacha, and of course, Zack Wheeler.

Here is a look at how Montero stacked up statistically against the other prominent pitching prospects mentioned in the previous paragraph:

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Table created on Fangraphs.com.

After looking at these numbers, why would you want to trade Montero? Among the top prospects listed above (all in the PCL in 2013), he has the best FIP, second-best ERA, second-lowest BB/9, the lowest HR/9, second-best BB%, and his LOB% was second-best as well.

While other pitchers’ numbers tend to hit a downward trajectory in the PCL, Montero didn’t skip a beat. While other pitchers try to pitch around hitters in the PCL, Montero kept coming at them, and won the majority of the battles. Heck, his numbers stack up against some of the top pitching prospects in the game.

The results can only mean one thing: Montero is better than we all think.

You can make a strong case that the Mets should save their money with regard to pitching this off-season, and give Montero a spot in the rotation in 2014. The team can then use that money they would have spent on a stop-gap pitcher, and focus on attaining bats, which they so desperately need.

Unfortunately that won’t happen. I would hope a trade involving Montero is unlikely as well.

The team will probably start Montero in Las Vegas once again in 2014. But one thing is for sure, Mets fans will see Montero at Citi Field this coming season.

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