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Hart grad Montgomery makes case for Major Leagues

Former first-round pick having a stellar season in Triple-A

Posted: July 25, 2014 9:34 p.m.
Updated: July 25, 2014 9:34 p.m.

Hart High graduate Mike Montgomery was selected to play in the 2014 Triple-A All-Star Game.

 

Location. Location. Location.

It sort of tells the story of Hart High graduate Mike Montgomery.

Once considered the top left-handed pitching prospect in baseball, Montgomery is finally at the step of his professional career where he is on the door step of becoming a Major Leaguer.

Today, he is a pitcher for the Triple-A Durham Bulls, and because he is locating his pitches better and enjoying success at the highest level of his career, it could be a matter of time before his new location is Tampa Bay — as in pitching for the Tampa Bay Rays.

“I definitely know there’s opportunity, but it’s one of the things I can’t really control,” Montgomery says. “All that I have to do is pitch good at the level I’m at. We all want to get to the big leagues. I’ve got to keep progressing and learning. I don’t just want to be a guy who’s up and down (from the minors to the Major Leagues). Once you’re up there you have to perform.”

The 25-year-old is certainly performing in 2014.

He is 9-3 with a 3.77 ERA, a 2.8 walks-per-nine-innings rate and 1.18 WHIP (walks+hits per innings pitched).

Take away his last two starts and his ERA is 3.21.

Montgomery was selected to play in the Triple-A All-Star Game and pitched a scoreless third inning in the game on

July 16 in front of his hometown crowd in Durham.

“It’s a great honor,” he says of the All-Star selection. “I put a lot of work in this offseason. The last couple years haven’t turned out the way I wanted. The challenge is to find ways to get better. I had to find ways to get better to have the year so far I’ve had.”

In 2010, he was a Double-A All-Star on the rise in the Kansas City Royals organization.

The wheels came off for the 2008 first-round pick in 2011 with Triple-A Omaha.

His ERA was 5.32 and in 2012 it was 6.07.

The culprit was his inability to command his pitches, resulting in more batters getting on base.

In 2011, Montgomery walked 4.1 batters per nine innings and 3.8 in 2012.

A change of scenery didn’t change things in 2013 after his trade from the Kansas City organization to Tampa Bay (he was a piece of the deal that sent fellow Hart graduate James Shields to the Kansas City Royals).

His walk rate was at 3.9.

Each of the last three seasons, he was giving up a baserunner and a half per inning.

Montgomery started his pro career as a hard-throwing lefty with a developing curveball and a plus changeup.

The lefty was lighting up the radar gun in the mid-90s.

It meant little if he couldn’t locate his pitches.

The most significant change this season has been that instead of throwing in the mid 90s, he’s living in the high 80s and lows 90s.

Durham pitching coach Neil Allen says Montgomery isn’t intentionally throwing with less velocity. He’s lost some speed off his fastball with the loss of some arm strength.

That could be a red flag for a lot of pitchers, but it has allowed Montgomery to locate his fastball better and pitch in and out on the corners.

“Monty used to be a kid with a 95, 96-mph fastball. The thing that’s neat about what’s happening to Monty right now is not that even though he’s lost some of his velocity and his arm strength has been giving him a little difficulty here and there, it’s made him a better pitcher,” Allen says. “So when that arm strength does come back to being what it was before, it will make him only better.

“Right now he’s learning how to pitch without his best fastball. That’s hard on a young kid. They want to look on the scoreboard and see that radar gun lighting up. It took us a good year to get through his mind that we don’t care so much about the velocity. It’s about the location, and he’s bought into it.”

If there was one game to put the exclamation point on just how much better Montgomery has been in 2014, it would be his April 26 game against the New York Yankees Triple-A affiliate the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders.

Montgomery no-hit the RailRiders through 8 1/3 innings. He walked just one batter. He was at 106 pitches in the ninth inning and removed for reliever Brad Boxberger, who completed the no-hitter by getting the last two outs of the game.

Next week could be very telling for Montgomery.

It marks the Major League Baseball trade deadline and the Rays have the most-sought after trade chip in All-Star and Cy Young Award winner David Price.

If Price is traded, it could open the door for Montgomery to join the Rays.

When rosters expand on Sept. 1 to 40-men, Montgomery could also have an opportunity.

He’s close.

“Monty’s name is on the map stronger than it has ever been before,” Allen says. “He’s in a darn good situation right now.”

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