With the news that closer Bobby Parnell will miss the rest of the season after deciding to have Tommy John surgery, I received a couple of emails asking me if this could pave the way for the MLB debut of pitching prospect Rafael Montero.
The 23-year old control artist had a stellar season debut for Triple-A Las Vegas on Thursday, tossing six scoreless innings, allowing just four hits, walking none, and striking out five batters. Amazingly, of his 79 pitches thrown that night, 55 of them were strikes. As we’ve maintained all Winter long on MMO, Montero is ready to pitch in the majors.
The Mets’ plan all along was to start Montero in Triple-A and leave him there at least until April 11th when they will have essentially secured an extra year of team control on their prized righthander. But as that Friday cutoff date quickly approaches, the Mets don’t seem to be in any rush to bring Montero to the majors. For one, there’s no room in the rotation for him, and secondly he’s not ready to pitch out of the bullpen – at least not yet.
Terry Collins fielded questions about that before the start of the weekend series against the Reds. “You’re asking the wrong guy,” Collins said.
The Mets manager acknowledged that Montero (and Jacob deGrom) should be exposed to bullpen work in Triple-A so they could be promoted to the majors in a relief role if the major league bullpen struggles.
“You’re going to ask a kid to come to the big leagues and all of a sudden pitch out of the bullpen when he hasn’t done it. That’s why one of the things that’s going to take place in Triple-A is those guys are going to pitch out of the pen at some time — deGrom, Montero,” Collins said. “But when you bring this guy up and now you slam him in a role he’s extremely uncomfortable with, if he doesn’t throw a strike, what’s your next option?”
Collins is right, and until Montero and deGrom are eased into bullpen roles at the minor league level, throwing either of them into a baptism by fire in a struggling major league pen could lead to disastrous results including season ending injuries. It will take time before their arms can adjust to pitching on back to back days – something neither of them have done in their pro careers.
The other thing to consider is whether this is something that benefits Montero and the Mets in the long run. Do we really want to take one of our top pitching prospects and throw him into the bullpen? What will this do to his overall value? We’re talking about a pitcher whose ceiling could be as high as a solid number two starter in the majors.
With viable options available in free agency like Kevin Gregg and Francisco Cordero, I would rather see us go in that direction than to throw Montero into the bullpen in a move borne out of desperation.
My hope for Montero was to see him debut as a starter and become a cornerstone in our rotation for years to come.
For now, there’s no room at the inn for Montero, but a lot can change over the course of the next four to six weeks. Let’s bide our time and see what happens before we jump the gun and do something regrettable.