Relief pitcher Mark Montgomery seems determined to show what a steal he was for the New York Yankees in the 11th round of the 2011 draft.
Montgomery dominated at Staten Island of the rookie-level New York-Penn League and Charleston of the low Class A South Atlantic League after being drafted in 2011.
A strange thing happened in 2012: He got better as he moved up the ladder.
In 28.1 innings for Staten Island and Charleston in 2011, Montgomery had a 1.91 ERA a 1.165 WHIP and a ridiculous 16.2 strikeouts per nine innings, fanning 51 batters.
Playing for Tampa in the high Class A Florida State League in 2012, Montgomery made 31 appearances. In 40.1 innings, his ERA was 1.34 and his WHIP was an outstanding 0.967. He also struck out 61 hitters and walked just 16.
In 24 innings across 15 appearances for Double-A Trenton, Montgomery struck out 38 batters while recording a 1.88 ERA and an almost-inconceivable 0.750 WHIP.
According to Tyler Emerick of MLB.com, it's been more of the same for Montgomery as he pitches in the Arizona Fall League.
Montgomery, 22, is currently ranked 14th on the list of the Yankees' top 20 prospects, according to MLB.com.
Through Sunday in Arizona, Montgomery had a 2.61 ERA in 10.1 innings with 19 strikeouts. Hitters were mustering just a .143 average against him.
His fastball isn't overpowering, just in the low 90s, but his slider is devastating. Unlike a lot of young pitchers who pile up a lot of Ks, Montgomery doesn't seem to be susceptible to the gopher ball. In 92.2 minor-league innings, he's surrendered just one homer.
His control has also been solid. He's walked 35 hitters in those 92.2 innings. It's not Greg Maddux, but it's a pretty solid start to a career that appears to be on the rise quickly.
Guys taken in the 11th round aren't supposed to be playing in the Eastern League in their first full year in organized baseball. But that's where Montgomery found himself to finish the 2012 season.
He also has already gained closing experience. He had 14 saves for Tampa before being promoted to Trenton this season and notched 14 saves for Charleston in 2011.
Montgomery believes there is lots of room to improve.
"You can always get better; there's never a time you can't," Montgomery told MLB.com of playing in the AFL. "I've been working on the same stuff all year, getting ahead of hitters, fastball location and continuing to throw that slider with conviction. I had to work the zone effectively and work my pitches effectively because you can't get away with it now like you can in some of the lower levels. It has been a good learning experience."
Chad Jennings of the Lower Hudson Journal's LoHud Yankees blog wrote on Nov. 6 that Montgomery might be ready to contribute at the major-league level as soon as 2013. There's a chance he might be impressive enough in spring training to break camp with the big club.
A more likely scenario for next spring, however, would be for Montgomery to move up the ladder to Triple-A with a call-up possible
Bleacher Report's MLB Prospects lead writer, Mike Rosenbaum, was suitably impressed with what he saw of Montgomery during the AFL's Rising Stars Game two weekends ago.
Montgomery likely slipped to the 11th round because he doesn't have the stature so many scouts cherish from right-handers. He's only 5-11 and weighs 205 pounds.
But what he is proving he can do so far is get hitters out with alarming regularity. You really can't ask for much more than that from a guy out of the bullpen.
Phil Watson was a writer and editor for several daily newspapers for more than 20 years and is a longtime New York Yankee fan.