Last season was one to forget for Rafael Montero, as he battled mysterious arm injuries and poor performance in his third shot at establishing himself as a viable major league arm. He struck out more than a batter per inning in his brief major league time but walked nearly a batter per inning as well as he continued to refuse to challenge major league hitters. His minor league numbers at Double-A and Triple-A were less extreme, but still uninspiring, as he failed to post a FIP below four.
Three years removed from appearing on several top 100 prospect lists in 2014, Montero’s star has faded considerably. The command and control profile that allowed him to dominate the minor leagues despite mediocre raw stuff hasn’t yet translated to the major leagues, and a wave of young Met arms have leapfrogged him. Heading into 2017, his chances at cracking the major league roster were slim, and the chances of him appearing as a starting pitcher were even lower.
Seemingly sensing that he was running out of rope with the Mets, Montero performed brilliantly this spring, posting a 1.77 ERA in 20.1 innings with 23 strikeouts and 8 walks. Spring training stats are not particularly meaningful, and Montero still doesn’t have plus stuff, but he’s seemed more willing to challenge hitters and not nibble around the edges of the strike zone. That performance, coupled with late injuries to Seth Lugo (dead arm) and Steven Matz (elbow) earned Montero a spot in the major league bullpen to start the season.
This may be only a temporary role until Jeurys Familia returns from his 15-game domestic violence suspension, but if Montero can carry over his strong spring performance, there will be a long-term spot for him on the major league roster. Most likely, he’ll fill in as a long reliever for the first few weeks of the season before returning to Triple-A to serve as some sorely needed starting pitching depth for the Mets’ rotation. Hopefully for both Montero and Mets fans, his fourth chance in the majors is more successful than his first three.