After a dominant 2013 season in the minors, Rafael Montero entered the 2014 season as the consensus number two pitching prospect in the Mets organization behind Noah Syndergaard. He made his highly anticipated major league debut in May, but Montero's rookie season definitely ended up getting overshadowed by some dude with really cool hair. Montero doesn't have much left to prove at Triple-A Las Vegas and appears to have the look of valuable mid-rotation starter heading into 2015—whether he'll be doing it for the Mets or another team remains uncertain.
In 16 starts (80 innings) for Las Vegas in 2014, Montero registered a 3.60 ERA and 1.28 WHIP with 80 strikeouts to 34 walks (3.8 BB/9). Considering he was pitching in the hitting haven Pacific Coast League, these numbers could have been a lot worse, but Montero was able to hold his own for Vegas.
A few early season implosions by Jenrry Mejia led to his quick exodus to the bullpen and the Mets called upon Montero to take Mejia's spot in the rotation. Montero had a solid Major League debut against the Yankees on May 14th, allowing three runs in six innings but Masahiro Tanaka shutout the Mets bats to hand Montero a loss in his debut. Montero made four big league starts in May, highlighted by a two hit, 10 strikeout performance over six innings versus the Diamondbacks. He finished his first stint in the majors with a 5.40 ERA and 17/11 K/BB ratio in 20 innings before Daisuke Matsuzaka took his spot in the rotation and Montero was sent back to Triple-A, presumably to work on his command which was uncharacteristically shaky in his first four starts.
In just his third start since returning to Triple-A, Montero exited the game after just one batter due to what turned out to be a strained left oblique. Montero returned on July 20th, after the oblique injury ended up sidelining him for about five weeks. Four starts for Vegas and one Jacob DeGrom shoulder scare later, Montero was brought back up to the big leagues to replace DeGrom in the rotation for a couple weeks. Continuing the theme of his up-and-down season, Montero gave up five runs in five innings in his first start against the Nationals, but bounced back brilliantly in his following start when he limited the Cubs to just one run over 7 1/3 innings while striking out six batters.
With DeGrom's shoulder now fully healthy, Montero was sent back to the minors on August 23rd to make one more start in Triple-A before the Mets recalled him on September 6th with rosters expanding. Montero got his first major league win in his first start back against the Rockies when he shut them out over 5 1/3 innings. He then threw a scoreless inning out of the Mets bullpen versus the Marlins before ending his 2014 on a high note, pitching 5 1/3 innings of one-run ball against the Astros.
The final big league line isn't too pretty for Montero: 1-3 record, 4.06 ERA, 5.13 FIP with a 42:23 K:BB ratio across 44 innings, tallying eight starts and ten total appearances. All things considered, he still had a handful of big league outings where he showed he is clearly capable of being a solid piece in a major league rotation. His command was a little lackluster at times, preventing him from going deeper into games, but he never really got an extended opportunity to get comfortable at the big league level, so this shouldn't be too big of a cause for concern.
If the Mets are serious about exploring the trade market for starting caliber corner outfielders, Montero's name will have to be dangled in trade talks, especially considering the club seems very unlikely to part with Noah Syndergaard. If Montero is still on the roster this spring, he will be competing for a big league rotation spot, and whether he makes it or not will depend on what Mr. Alderson decides to do with other offseason trade candidates like Jon Niese, Dillon Gee, and Bartolo Colon.
Desired 2015 role: Competing for a rotation spot in spring training after the Mets find a way to bolster their offense through free agency and trades involving some combination of Niese, Gee, and Colon.
Projected 2015 role: The free agent market for corner outfielders is disappointing so Alderson turns to dealing the highly touted Montero as part of a package to land an impact bat such as Yoenis Cespedes or Alex Gordon.