12/07/12 6:40 PM ET
Reliever Montgomery on the rise in Yanks' system
By Bernie Pleskoff / MLB.com
Many have not yet heard of the Yankees' pitching prospect. I believe the 22-year-old right-handed reliever will soon become a household name.
I hadn't seen Montgomery pitch until he became a member of the Scottsdale Scorpions in the recently concluded Arizona Fall League.
Montgomery made quite an impression as a late-inning reliever.
Overall, Montgomery pitched 10 1/3 relief innings this fall. He struck out 19 while walking only five.
His ability to command his fastball and devastating slider earned him praise from the opposition as well as the scouts in the stands.
Count me among those that believe Montgomery will be an impact late-inning reliever. Frankly, depending on the team's needs, that could be as soon as this coming season.
Montgomery is not large or overpowering. He's 5-feet-11, carrying 205 solid pounds on an evenly distributed frame. His body profiles more as the shortstop he was in high school in Williamsburg, Va., than as the pitcher he has become.
Intending to play his natural shortstop position, Montgomery played baseball at Division I Longwood University in Farmville, Va. At some point in his freshman year he was used in a dual role, getting innings on the mound.
In his sophomore year, Montgomery became a pitcher exclusively.
During his junior year, Montgomery saved 10 games. His ERA was a miniscule 0.89 in 22 mound appearances. He gained tremendous attention by striking out 48 in 30 1/3 innings.
His career at Longwood earned him a selection by the Yankees in the 11th round of the 2011 First-Year Player Draft.
When I spoke with Montgomery in Arizona, I noticed something special about his demeanor. He is confident without being cocky. He believes in himself. He's got a little bulldog in him. Actually, he has a lot of bulldog in him.
Montgomery knows he's not a flame-throwing power pitcher. He knows he's not going to enter in the bottom of the eighth or ninth inning and blow hitters away with a 98-mph fastball. He does, however, know that he has two quality pitches.
Montgomery has a Major League quality low-90s fastball that does the job nicely. He can use the fastball to change the eye level of the hitter. He has outstanding command of the pitch and can use it appropriately to set the hitter. In most cases, what comes after the fastball is virtually unhittable.
It's the slider. Not just any slider. A devastating slider. A swing and miss, grab some bench, "what just happened to me?" slider.
And that's the pitch that will carry Montgomery to the Major Leagues. Probably quickly.
As a late-inning reliever, Montgomery will be able to thrive and survive with only two pitches. Provided one is really good.
Without a doubt, Montgomery's slider is really good.
Some things just go together nicely. Hamburgers and french fries. Spaghetti and meatballs. Montgomery's fastball and slider. They're a team.
I saw Montgomery's slider during several of his outings this fall. Montgomery has success because he is able to repeat his delivery and his release point.
Probably the most memorable inning I saw him pitch was in the Arizona Fall League Rising Stars Game. Montgomery faced four batters in the eighth inning. He struck out the side. An error by the first baseman was the only blemish to a perfect inning.
The inning was indicative of Montgomery's ability to miss bats. It was a testament to the quality of his two-pitch arsenal.
Montgomery is coming off a season where he pitched in two classifications for the Yankees.
At high Class A Tampa, Montgomery threw 40 1/3 innings and got 14 saves. He had an ERA of 1.34 and a WHIP of 0.96. He struck out 61 while walking only 16.
His outstanding performance at Tampa earned him a promotion to Double-A Trenton.
Montgomery worked in 15 games for the Eastern League club, saving one. He threw 24 innings and gave up five runs, pitching to an ERA of 1.88. Striking out 38 and walking six, Montgomery had a WHIP of 0.75.
Montgomery is extremely nasty against right-handed hitters. If he scuffles at all, it may be against left-handed hitting.
What is the most remarkable statistic of Montgomery's career to date? In 103 total innings, including this past Arizona Fall League, he has given up only one home run.
The Yankees have had the luxury of calling upon one of the greatest -- if not the greatest -- relievers in baseball history to close out games.
Mariano Rivera returns after a year in recovery from a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee.
Rivera's best pitch is his almost untouchable cut fastball. He rarely throws any other pitch.
This is not to say Montgomery is Rivera. However, it is to say that Montgomery has the upside and potential to have the type of pitch that can dominate in the late innings when the game is on the line.
He has the type of arm that can pitch more than one inning.
If Montgomery spends time in Spring Training with Rivera, he can learn from the best. From that point in the spring, who knows what the timetable will be for him to make his presence felt on the Major League roster?
The Yankees will have to determine the potential risk/reward equation of having a pitcher with Montgomery's ability on the Major League roster as opposed to gaining valuable experience in the Minor Leagues.
Regardless of their initial decision, Mark Montgomery will soon become a familiar name in baseball.
Bernie Pleskoff has served as a professional scout for the Houston Astros and Seattle Mariners. Follow @BerniePleskoff on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.