Mets fans have been living with Rafael Montero for what feels like forever now. He signed with the Mets in January of 2011 when he was twenty years old, which was old for a non-Cuban Latin American player, but he had started playing baseball late. For only an $80,000 advance it was a low risk move by the Mets.
For a time it looked like the signing might turn into a steal. In 2012 at Single-A, Montero showed poise and command, pitching to an 11-5 record and a 2.36 ERA. That caught the attention of everyone in the organization as well as Baseball America, which prior to the 2013 season named Montero the Mets’ fifth best prospect.
He did not slow down in 2013 either, splitting the season between Double-A and Triple-A. He first went 12-7 with a 2.43 ERA for the Binghamton Mets. Even more impressive was his 3.05 ERA in sixteen games in the notoriously difficult stadium and atmosphere of Las Vegas.
The success pushed him to being deemed the Mets’ third best prospect entering the 2014 season by Baseball America, ahead of names like Dominic Smith (4th), Wilmer Flores (6th), Amed Rosario (7th), and Jacob DeGrom (10th). He started the season in Las Vegas, and amidst great fanfare was called up May 14th, 2014.
That season he appeared in 10 games with the Mets, compiling a 1-3 record and 4.06 ERA. While he struck out 42 batters in 44 innings, his 23 walks were concerning. For a pitcher known for his poise and command this was not acceptable, and it was Jacob deGrom, not Montero, who ran with his first Major League opportunity (all the way to the Rookie of the Year Award).
Montero’s shaky start was nothing compared to the unmitigated disaster of the next two-plus seasons. In 2015 he pitched ten innings at the Major League level before being shut down with a rotator cuff injury. A bad situation turned worse when the Mets and Terry Collins repeatedly questioned Montero’s toughness as well as the extent of the injury. While Collins actually confronted the young pitcher during that summer about what he could contribute to the team, Montero did not pitch again that season.
By the start of 2016 the shine had fully come off the one-time top prospect, but his outstanding spring training in 2016 earned him another opportunity for the Mets. He pitched 20 innings allowing only 23 base runners and throwing a sub-2.00 ERA. However, once the regular season started, Montero’s troubles resurfaced. From April of 2016 to May of 2017, Montero has thrown 25.2 innings for the Mets, allowing a ridiculous 63 baserunners and throwing to an ERA of 9.00.
Now, with the season on the brink of slipping away early, the Mets will turn to Montero on Friday to at least keep the game competitive and not put an undue strain on an already exhausted bullpen.
Like last season, the Mets have seen injuries at an exponential rate. But last year, players like T.J. Rivera, Robert Gsellman and Seth Lugo stepped up and performed. For the Mets to stay afloat with names like Noah Syndergaard, Yoenis Cespedes, Steven Matz, and Lucas Duda on the sidelines, they need other players to step up.
Could Rafael Montero be one of those players? He is no longer a young prospect as he’s 26 and turning 27 in October, but his early success at the minor league level has not translated to any kind of success whatsoever in the Bigs. The only reason he is getting this opportunity in the first place is because of those injuries. The Mets season might depend on his rediscovering some of his success from the minors – But his career and future as a Major Leaguer most certainly depend on it.