Mike Montgomery prospects for making it as a good major league starting pitcher have fallen fast. He was ranked the #19 overall prospect by Baseball America for all of baseball for 2011 and #23 for 2012. Then, the 2012 season happened. Just a couple of weeks ago, the readers at Royals Review ranked him the 15th best prospect in the system and people in the Royals organization ranked him even lower at #16. Mike Montgomery will either be another pitching prospect bust for the Royals or comeback to demonstrate some the the talent he processes.
Mike was rolling through the minors in his first 2 seasons capped off by his performance in the 2010 Arizona Fall League where he struck out over 1 batter per inning. In 2011, He began his decline in AAA. His BB% was up, K% down. A drop in performance should not be totally unexpected for a player making the jump to AAA, but is 7.7 K/9 and 4.1 BB/9 would probably only get worse if he progressed to the majors.
He was never able to get it together in 2011 and never made the jump to the majors. The problems got worse in 2012. His strikeout rate was down even more and his walks were barely up. On July 11th, he was demoted to AA (video of Montgomery talking about the demotion).
Dayton Moore stated the following for the reason for the demotion
"He's actually throwing fine,."We just want to get him back there with [pitching coach] Larry Carter and work on some things. The organization just felt it was the right thing to do. Just give him a breather and re-start a little bit. We're trying to get him more downhill and power his fastball in the zone. We just think getting back down there will be beneficial to him."
After the demotion, he saw some small improvement, with his BB/9 dropping to an uninspiring 3.3 BB/9.
The results showed that he was struggling, but the reasons behind the struggles were sketchy at best. I compiled a compilation of reports from people inside and outside the organization on Montgomery from the start of the 2012 season to the end. I was trying to get an idea of what was "wrong" with him.
Here is a report summarizing his struggles from 2011:
Nasser says that since Montgomery couldn't throw his curveball for strikes often enough last season, he became a two-pitch pitcher, allowing hitters to subtract his curveball from the equation and just focus on his fastball (which ranged from 91-94 mph last season) and changeup.
"We didn't really ever see an efficient Mike Montgomery and I think that's going to be one of his biggest challenges because if he's expected to be a No. 1 or No. 2 at the big league level, he's got to be a little more economical and go deeper into games," Nasser said.
And Warren reports again on Montgomery early in the 2012 season:
"In that fourth inning, I went away from my fastball a little bit," Montgomery admitted. "I threw a lot more pitches that inning, and I gave them a chance to get into hitters' counts. After that, I was just focusing on attacking the zone and I was able to use my fastball more effectively."
According to Storm Chasers' play-by-play radio broadcaster, Mark Nasser, this has been an issue for Montgomery that dates back to the 2011 season.
"I know Doug has been on him about that in the past, saying, 'Look, establish the fastball first,'" Nasser told me. "It's not the first time this year and it happened multiple times last year. He's got a good fastball -- anywhere between 90-95 with some life to it, and you've seen the results.
According to Nasser, Henry and Rick Knapp -- an organizational pitching coach -- lowered Montgomery's arm slot just a little over his last two starts and that seems to be helping his control. Montgomery also says he's been working on tightening up his mechanics and, after brainstorming with Henry, he found a new grip on his curve ball toward the end of last season that he's comfortable with and has been using this season.
"I went through a couple of grips on the ball last year and nothing really felt comfortable," Montgomery said. "I found a grip that worked and stuck with it. It didn't feel comfortable at first, but after a month or so, I got used to it."
Todd Fertig reported that Ned Yost was frustrated with Montgomery's command.
"It was a struggle for him this year," manager Ned Yost told reporters in Surprise. "He didn't command the ball. We wanted to see him come in and... compete for one of these spots, and it just never developed. We want him to go back and get his innings. He's a guy that we think can come help us sometime over the course of the year, but that's up to his performance."
In April, Old Man Duggan went to see Montgomery pitch probably the best game of his season and came to the following conclusion:
Obviously, this is just one start, but after roughly a year of disappointment on the Montgomery front, seeing him finally put together a pretty dominant start was a breath of fresh air.
At the end of July, Flanagan get the reasons for Mongomery's demotion to AA from J.J. Picollo
"He's had a tough go of it," said Royals assistant general manager of player development J.J. Picollo. "We sent him there thinking it would give him a mental break. We thought he might get there and be able to relax a little more."
"He's a guy with a plus fastball, probably in the range of 92-96 (mph)," Picollo said. "He's got an excellent change-up. He's pretty much been that type of pitcher with a 1-2 punch. He's learning a curve and that's becoming better.
"But he's pretty much had the same issues. He will pitch great for three or four innings, then lose his command and have a big inning, and the final line doesn't look good. But we know he's got good stuff. We will get through this."
In August, Clint Hulsey filed this report on Montgomery stating that his pitch selection was predictable and had problems getting the ball over the plate. In this article, it was stated that Montgomery had a huge LH-RH split and may only make it as a LOOGY. Montgomery doesn't have a huge RHH/LHH split. In 2012, he did better vs RHH than LHH.
As far as Pitch F/X data goes, we only have data from 2 spring training outings, one from 2011 and one from 2012. In 2011, he averaged 93.9 MPH on his fastball and reached 95.5 MPH. In 2012, he reached 94.9 MPH and averaged 92.77.
The pitch selection is somewhat predictable. Against righties, it is fastball and change (although he can use the change early in the count and throw it for strikes) while against lefties it is a lot of fastballs with an occasional curve. I would recommend throwing his change more to lefties. It may not work, but it seems to have enough break that he could get them out with it. I saw him try it a couple of times, but he couldn't get it near enough to the zone for it to be tempting. Montgomery was just barely missing the zone most of the time with his fastball.
Finally, I did a little scouting of my own. I went to MiLB.com and looked at the available video of Montgomery (compiled all his pitches here with a Mike Aviles grand salami included). To get an idea if his motion was the hasn't changed, I created 3 .gifs of Montgomery, one from 2011 and 2 from this past season.
I looked at each .gif, frame by frame to see if I could find any visible differences in his motion in the three pitches. I could find none. His motion is repeated in each one. I know that I am dealing with a super small sample size, but mechanically, he has not changed.
I think Mike Montgomery is going to be a frustrating pitcher. His fastball would be one of the fastest in the majors for a south paw starter, but he has problems getting the ball over the plate. From all reports, no one can put their finger on one single problem causing the lack of command. It would not surprise me one bit if he puts it all together for 5 to 6 good minor league starts. The Royals would then promote him to the majors where he is either lights out or throwing B.P. Imagine a left-handed Luke Hochevar. He has time to get "it", but I wish "it" happens in the minors. Hopefully the Royals don't run him out for 5 years hoping he will become the pitcher everyone projected.