Expectations Remain High for Prospect Mike Montgomery

Mike Montgomery saved his best for last in 2011.

Montgomery had a 1.86 strikeout to walk ratio in 2011 for the Omaha Storm Chasers, compared to a nearly 3-to-1 ratio for the rest of his MiLB career.
Minda Haas

As a first round supplemental pick of the Kansas City Royals in 2008, expectations were high for Montgomery coming into 2011. But the 22-year-old, 6-4 left-handed pitcher struggled through most of the season for the Omaha Storm Chasers, posting a 5-11 record with a lofty 5.32 ERA. It was his first year in Triple-A after successful campaigns in lower levels of the minor leagues.

He fought his command all season in Omaha, but his final start in mid-September gave fans a glimpse of what they had been hoping for.

He took the hill for Game 3 of the Pacific Coast League Championship Series in Sacramento and tossed five shutout innings on three hits and three walks, while striking out six, helping the Chasers secure the sweep and the PCL championship (which I wrote about here). Even though he walked three guys, he exhibited better control and he kept the ball down.

"That's exactly what got him through tonight," Omaha manager Mike Jirschele told me on the phone after the game. "He was getting all his pitches over for strikes. His breaking ball was the best I've seen this year."

As Montgomery prepares to report for Spring Training, expectations remain high. MLB.com has listed Montgomery on its 2012 Top 100 Prospects list at #31.

Storm Chasers radio broadcaster Mark Nasser believes that night in Sacramento is telling for Montgomery's future success.

"On that night in Sacramento, he had that hard curveball and he was using it to rack up some strikeouts," Nasser told me in a phone interview on Wednesday, Feb. 1. "And that's the thing. He's got to find that pitch, because if he throws it for strikes, he's going to be tough."

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.

"Let's face it, Kansas City needs a front line starter. They are still hopeful that he's that guy. He's very important to their future. [Danny] Duffy is up there now. [John] Lamb, you'd think will come back from Tommy John, but he's still not going to pitch until the second half of the season next year, so next year is a wash for him. So if Kansas City wants to compete in the next couple of years like I know they are hopeful for, Monty is the guy."

Nasser expects Monty to compete for a spot with Kansas City during Spring Training, but says he'll probably come back to Omaha to start the season.

"I think they [Kansas City] want to see him mature in the way he handles adversity," Nasser said. "Things tended to snowball on him when things were going badly. He would have outings when he wasn't pitching past the fourth or fifth inning.

"To be an ace—take CC Sabathia for example—he doesn't always have a great outing and he won't always be his best, but he still pitches deep into games. He has that ace mentality and that's something they really want to see Montgomery develop. They want him to be that guy who can be more consistent with his stuff and then pitch deeper into games."

Photo Source: Minda Haas / Royal Blues

Lee Warren has covered the Omaha Storm Chasers (formerly the Omaha Royals) for the past three seasons. You can find more of his writing about the team at www.omahabaseball360.com. Follow @OmahaBaseball on Twitter for more continual updates about the team.

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Updated Wednesday, Feb 1, 2012