One of the least areas of concern for the New York Yankees heading forward into 2013 is the bullpen. Yes, some of the personnel of that bullpen are in flux right now. Jon Heyman insists that Rafael Soriano will opt out of his contract today, giving the Yankees until Friday to make a qualifying offer. Then the fun starts as Soriano can either accept that offer (unlikely), or work out a two or three year deal with the Yankees (he wants four years). Mariano Rivera has not decided if he will pitch or not in 2013 and if he decides he will, still has to work out a deal with the Yankees to do so. David Robertson is an elite relief pitcher and Joba Chamberlain looked great in September. David Aardsma will be available and is Plan D. In the back of all those contingency plans is one Mark Montgomery, the next big thing.
It has been hard to salivate over the impending arrival of any Yankee youngster since Jesus Montero was traded away. Tamar has done a terrific job of keeping us informed day after day about what is coming. But nearly all of those prospects are at least a year or more away. Mark Montgomery is the current heartthrob for the coming season. And why not? The guy has done nothing since he was drafted but put up monster numbers and has ripped up every level he has pitched along the way. Montgomery most recently has made the Arizona Fall League look like his own little playground. In that little short sample size league, he has pitched 7.1 innings and has given up just two hits and one earned run and struck out thirteen. Yeah, those numbers are fun to look at.
But they are even more fun since it is simply a continuation of what he has done everywhere else. We might be getting ahead of ourselves since Montgomery was only drafted in the 2011 draft. He was an eleventh round pick. So his success is a bit of a coup for the Yankees’ scouting department. One of the reasons for his late pick was that he pitched at the relatively obscure Longwood University in Virginia. Michael Tucker, drafted from that school in 1992, is the only player ever from that university to play in the major leagues and only eight players from that school have ever been drafted.
And maybe we are getting ahead of ourselves here since Montgomery only recently got his feet wet in Double A ball. But would it help whet your appetite to tell you that Mark Montgomery has struck out 14.6 batters per nine innings in his minor league career while Craig Kimbrel, everyone’s favorite relief pitcher du jour averaged 14.4? And Montgomery has far better control and a much prettier WHIP. Yes, this guy, Montgomery, makes the anticipation that attractive.
Montgomery has been groomed to finish ballgames. He has now made 72 minor league relief appearances and has finished 56 games. He has thirty minor league saves and seven wins against only two losses. He pitched 2011 for Staten Island in A- ball and then Charleston in A ball. His first year led to 28.1 total innings. He struck out 51 batters and had a WHIP of 1.165 overall. He walked 4.1 batters per nine and had an ERA of 1.91 overall. He gave up no homers.
In 2012, he started the season in A+ for Tampa and pitched 31 times. He then moved to Double A ball and pitched fifteen games for Trenton. All together, he pitched 64.1 innings in 2012 and struck out 99 batters. His walk rate overall was much better at only 3.1 per nine giving him a strikeout to walk ratio of 4.50. His walk rate was only 2.2 in Double-A and led to a ratio of 6.33!
He finally gave up his first minor league homer in Trenton but he finished the 2012 season with an ERA of 1.54 with a WHIP of 0.886. He gave up only 4.9 hits per nine innings for the entire season.
So perhaps by now, you are salivating as much by those numbers. Montgomery simply has to get a spring invite, doesn’t he? And if he does well there? Who knows. Perhaps he will become the next Craig Kimbrel. Either way, Soriano or no Soriano….Rivera or no Rivera…the Yankees have some options. And boy, wouldn’t seeing this Montgomery kid be fun?