Name: Bryce Montes de Oca
Weight: 265 lbs.
Acquired: 2018 MLB Draft, 9th Round (University of Missouri)
2022 Stats: 44 G (1 GS), 51.1 IP, 35 H, 22 R, 19 ER (3.33 ERA), 38 BB, 80 K, .359 BABIP (Double-A/Triple-A)
Bryce Montes de Oca underwent Tommy John surgery in April 2013, a junior in high school, but his luck turned around. The following season not only was he the valedictorian of the graduating class of 2014 at Lawrence High School but was also widely considered to be one of the better high school pitchers available in the 2014 MLB Draft. He was drafted by the Chicago White Sox in the 14th round of the 2014 MLB Draft but did not sign with them and instead honored his commitment to the University of Missouri.
His first two years there were marred by injury and ineffectiveness, appearing in 8 games total. In 2017, his junior year, he was able to stay on the mound and made 15 appearances, starting 12 games for the Tigers. He posted a 4.43 ERA in 61.0 innings, allowing 43 hits, walking 42, and striking out 61. The right-hander limited batters to a .205 batting average and surrendered just 15 extra-base hits for the year, the fewest among all Missouri starters. The Washington Nationals drafted him with their 15th round in the 2017 MLB Draft, but Montes de Oca turned them down, returning to Mizzou for his senior year. He was lights out in the first half of the year, but had his role changed midyear and went on to throw just 11 more innings in the final two months of the season. All in all, he pitched 54.2 innings in total, posting a 3.13 ERA, allowing 32 hits, walking 33, and striking out 65. The Mets drafted him with their 9th round pick in the 2018 MLB Draft and the big-right hander accepted their slot offer of $152,100.
The big right-hander did not pitch for the remainder of 2018, nor did he in 2019. Montes de Oca underwent multiple surgeries to his arm, shoulder, back and knee over the span of that time, preventing him from pitching. The COVID-19 pandemic cancelling the 2020 season delayed his professional debut for another season. Finally, in May 2021, Montes de Oca, almost three years exactly, threw his first professional pitch. Assigned to the Brooklyn Cyclones, the 25-year-old right-hander appeared in 26 games and posted a 4.73 ERA in 32.1 innings, allowing 22 hits, walking 27, and striking out 42. He was promoted to the Binghamton Rumble Ponies at the end of the year and then began the 2022 season with them. Appearing in 14 games between April and May, he posted a 3.12 ERA in 17.1 innings with 11 hits allowed, 14 walks, and 24 strikeouts. He was promoted to the Syracuse Mets in June and posted a 3.90 ERA in 30.0 innings over 27 games with 21 hits allowed, 21 walks, and 48 strikeouts. On September 3, the Mets purchased the right-hander’s contract, and he made his major league debut. Montes de Oca appeared in 3 games for the Mets before being put on the injured list because of left hamstring tightness, allowing 3 earned runs on 7 hits and 2 walks in 3.1 innings with 6 strikeouts. The right-hander returned from the injury and pitched three more games, albeit with the Syracuse Mets, showing no signs of lingering issues.
Standing 6’7” and weighing 265-pounds, Montes de Oca is an imposing sight on the mound. Earlier in his career, his hat would fall off of his head after virtually every pitch, adding to the mystique. He throws from a three-quarters arm slot, dropping and driving off of the mound with some violence. His arm action is quick and whip-like, with a soft stab in the back of his arm circle. His mechanics are simple and should be repeatable, but like other tall pitchers, he has trouble doing so, contributing to control problems.
His fastball sits in the sits in the low-to-mid-90s, touching the high-90s and has triple-digits with regularity. His long arms and long stride give his pitches a higher perceived velocity and his arm slot gives the pitch late life and sink. He complements the fastball with a power slider and a cutter. The slider sits in the mid-80s and flashes being an above average to plus pitch when he can keep its shape tight. His cutter sits in the mid-90s. Montes de Oca occasionally threw a high-80s-to-low-90s changeup in college but has more or less shelved the pitch as a professional.
It’s kind of incredible that Bryce Montes de Oca is still pitching, let alone is a top prospect in the system who had a cup of coffee in the big leagues last season. The guy has been around for almost ten years now- rounding up, of course!- and has a total of 257.2 innings in college, the minors, and now the majors combined. He sure is fun to watch, with his size, fastball, and slider, so here’s hoping he stays healthy and somewhat effective (and brings back the loose hat).
If you like velocity, Montes de Oca is your guy. If you like command and control...not so much. But the stuff is potentially elite. Excellent extension makes his 102 MPH fastball even more effective, and he also has the sort of sweeping slider that’s been in vogue the last couple years. He’s a half grade of command from being a legitimate late-inning option, but that half-grade is going to be quite difficult for him to pick up.
One of my personal cheeseball prospects, Montes de Oca made his big league debut in 2022. While his performance statistically was not necessarily what you would have hoped for from a 26 year old reliever with his velocity, Montes de Oca showed flashes of what made him so intriguing prior missing all of 2018, 2019, and 2020 to injury or the global pandemic. Montes de Oca struck a lot of hitters out in 2022, striking out more than 30% of the hitters he faced at three different levels, but walks have continued to be a major problem. He walked more than 15% of the hitters he faced in the minors this year, and he will need to allow significantly fewer base runners to stay in the Mets’ bullpen churn in 2023. Regardless, Montes de Oca should get every chance to prove he belongs in the Mets bullpen plans, due to his eye-popping fastball velocity, and improving cutter/slider combination.
Montes de Oca is going to be an up and down arm for the 2023 Mets, and likely not going to be on this list next year because of his impending graduation. He is an intriguing prospect, mostly because he has enticing stuff and has shown it at every level. He has also shown an inability to stay in the zone, never notching less than a 10% walk rate in any level he spent significant time at. He also has a lengthy injury history, something that followed him all the way from his time at Missouri. The stuff will play, but he will be held back unless he starts hitting the zone more.