Sunday, October 13, 2013

Can Rafael Montero Make The Opening Day Roster?

Everywhere you look, there's an article or blog post about who the Mets should add for the 2014 season.  If it's not "is Shin-Soo Choo coming here?", then it's  "hey, let's bring back Beltran!" or "give Johan a one-year deal to replace Harvey".  I think I even heard a "can you open a 16 Handles at Citi Field next year?" from a member of the congregation.  Or maybe that was just Joey Beartran.

So many people.  So many requests.  But maybe the Mets could add one of their own to help the team from Day 1 next year.  Tell me, my friends.  Do you think Rafael Montero is ready for the big leagues?

Rafael Montero should get used to the mound at Citi Field.  He'll be on it in 2014.

Rafael Montero hasn't received the fanfare that Matt Harvey or Zack Wheeler earned, nor is he spoken about as much as fellow pitching prospect Noah Syndergaard is.  But all Montero has done is dominate each minor league level since he joined the organization in 2011.

In his first professional season, Montero was 5-4 with a 2.15 ERA and 0.96 WHIP.  Opposing batters hit only .208 against him and reached base at a .257 clip.  Montero struck out 66 batters and walked just 13.

Montero split the 2012 campaign between Savannah and St. Lucie, going 11-5 with a 2.36 ERA and 0.94 WHIP.  The right-hander made 20 starts and allowed two earned runs or less in all but four of them.  Montero was even more stingy when it came to allowing base runners in his second professional season, as hitters posted a .246 on-base percentage against him.  That's what happens when you walk less than one batter per start (19 BB in 20 starts).

In 2013, Montero dominated AA-Binghamton (7-3, 2.43 ERA, 0.91 WHIP, 72 K, 10 BB in 11 starts) before receiving a real test by being promoted to Triple-A and the hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League.  Montero's ERA and WHIP went up to 3.05 and 1.24, respectively, but in a league where a 6-5 final score is considered a pitchers' duel, that ERA and WHIP were among the best in the league.  For all pitchers who made at least 15 starts (Montero started 16 games for Las Vegas), Montero had the third-lowest ERA and tenth-lowest WHIP.  He also finished seventh in strikeout-to-walk ratio.  And no one who made as many starts as Montero did allowed fewer than the four home runs he gave up.

So for all you kids at home, in three years of minor league ball, Montero has a 2.51 ERA, 1.02 WHIP, 326 strikeouts and only 67 walks.  Montero has allowed only 16 home runs in 348.1 innings and has held opposing hitters to a .220 batting average and .261 on-base percentage.  In layman's terms, he keeps the ball in the park and he doesn't walk anyone.  That's mighty impressive for a pitcher who won't turn 23 until this coming Thursday.

Ready for the World - Oh, Rafael!

For those who say Montero doesn't have enough seasoning at the Triple-A level, consider this.  Matt Harvey made 20 starts at AAA-Buffalo in 2012 before the Mets came a-callin'.  By 2013, he was the starting pitcher in the All-Star Game.  Zack Wheeler didn't even need as much time at Triple-A, making just 13 starts for Las Vegas before he got his first taste of the big leagues this past June.

Neither Harvey (3.48 ERA, 1.29 WHIP) nor Wheeler (3.56 ERA, 1.27 WHIP) dominated minor league hitters the way Montero has.  Harvey and Wheeler needed a total of 33 starts at the Triple-A level to be deemed ready to take on big league hitters, or an average of just over 16 starts per pitcher.  That's exactly the number of starts Rafael Montero has had in Triple-A, and he fared better than both Harvey and Wheeler did despite pitching in a hitter-friendly league.

I can understand signing a veteran starter or two to compete for the spots in the rotation behind Wheeler, Jonathon Niese and Dillon Gee.  But if Rafael Montero pitches solidly in spring training, why should the Mets send him back to Las Vegas?

Veteran pitchers can always be helpful.  But in the case of Rafael Montero, they should just be there to help him learn how to pitch in the big leagues, not to take the spot he deserves in the starting rotation.  There's certainly nothing left for Montero to learn at the minor league level.

A strong spring should give Montero a trip to Citi Field come March 31st.  That's who the Mets should add for the 2014 season.  After 16 Handles, of course.

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