Mets need the real Rafael Montero to please stand up

Apr 28, 2015; Miami, FL, USA; New York Mets starting pitcher Rafael Montero (50) delivers a pitch during the first inning against the Miami Marlins at Marlins Park. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports
Apr 28, 2015; Miami, FL, USA; New York Mets starting pitcher Rafael Montero (50) delivers a pitch during the first inning against the Miami Marlins at Marlins Park. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports /

It’s only a matter of time before right-hander Rafael Montero‘s next opportunity to prove himself at the major league level

Signed as an amateur free agent out of the Dominican Republic, Montero’s professional career launched in 2011 with brief progressive appearances in the Dominican Summer League, with Kingsport of the Appalachian League, with the Gulf Coast League Mets, then finally with Brooklyn of the (A-) New York-Penn League. Rafael made 17 combined appearances, posting a 2.15 ERA and 0.958 WHIP, with an 8.4 K/9 and 1.6 W/9 average over 71 innings pitched.

In 2012, he continued skyrocketing through the system.  Montero made 20 combined starts split between (A) Savannah and (A+) Port St. Lucie.  He posted an overall 11-5 record with a 2.36 ERA and 09.943 WHIP, with a similar 8.1 K/9 and 1.4 W/9 average over 122 innings pitched.

Montero, then 22 years old and ranked fifth-best prospect within the organization, opened the 2013 season with (AA) Binghamton where he reaffirmed, if not punctuated his efforts through that point of his young career.  He made 11 starts for the Bees, in which he posted a stellar 7-3 record with a 2.43 ERA and 0.915 WHIP, with an improved 9.7 K/9 average, and a consistent 1.4 W/9 average over 66.2 innings pitched.

Just 2 1/2 years into his professional career, Montero was duly promoted to the (AAA) Las Vegas 51s in June, where he finished out the 2013 regular season.  Notorious variances in Pacific Coast League member locations and their respective playing conditions made Rafael’s continued success seemingly all the more impressive.  He made 16 starts for Vegas, registering a fine 3.05 ERA and 1.241 WHIP, with a 7.9 K/9 and 2.5 W/9 average, and only four home runs allowed over 88.2 innings pitched.

After passing every test put before him, his minor league education appeared complete.

After partaking in some Winter League action, Montero made five appearances during Spring Training of 2014, in which he allowed six hits, two walks, and fanned five over nine innings pitched. He nevertheless opened the season with Las Vegas once again, but an injury to Dillon Gee necessitated his quick promotion to Queens.

I understand most will point to Montero’s 2015 arm issues for derailing his continued development, but the numbers actually suggest his problems began during his 2014 rookie season.  Montero debuted on May 14 against the New York Yankees at Citi Field, and if you ask me, he has never been the same since.

On May 31, he was sent back to Vegas, where he remained until his August 12 recall. Nine days later, he was sent right back to Vegas, but then brought back as part of the September call-ups.

His 2014 performance with Las Vegas went generally as expected.  He posted a 6-4 record in 16 starts with a 3.60 ERA and 1.288 WHIP.  His walks were noticeably up, but he posted a 9.0 K/9 average and 7.8 H/9 mark.

During his three different call-ups with the Mets, Montero made ten appearances and eight starts, in which he registered a 4.06 ERA and 1.511 WHIP.  His 8.5 K/9 average was up to snuff, but his 23 walks (4.7 W/9) and 44 hits allowed over 44.1 innings not so much.  On Sept. 13, the Mets relegated him to the bullpen for the rest of the season.  What the stats do not tell you is opponents easily exploited a lack of control with his slider and simply waited on his quickly over-utilized fastball and change.

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In 2015, his problems began in earnest. By April 30, he was sidelined with what was originally deemed shoulder tightness.  After suffering setbacks in both June and July, rotator cuff inflammation ultimately landed him on the 60-day disabled list, and effectively ended his season.

In five appearances and just one start for the Mets, he posted a 4.40 ERA in 10 innings with an 11.7 K/9 average, but allowed nine hits and posted a 4.5 W/9 average for a 1.40 WHIP.  He otherwise managed just seven more minor league appearances for the season.

Montero did not require offseason surgery, but if you listened closely there were background voices beginning to question his mettle.

During Spring Training on March 3, Mets brass curiously allowed Montero to throw 39 pitches during his Grapefruit League debut, after which he went on to post a 2.12 ERA and 0.88 WHIP with 15 strikeouts over 17 innings pitched.  He also issued just four walks, while batters only hit .177 against him.

Montero made two forgettable relief appearances for the Mets this season back in April, allowing three runs on five hits in just 2.1 innings pitched.

After a rocky start with Las Vegas, he has now put together fine back-to-back performances.   After six starts, he boasts a 2-1 record with a 3.94 ERA and 1.52 WHIP.  He has allowed 32 hits, 15 walks, and fanned 38 batters over 35.2 innings pitched.

He spent his last two starts, however, lowering his ERA from a 6.50 mark with 11.2 scoreless innings pitched, while surrendering just six hits and five walks and striking out 13 batters.

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On May 14 against Oklahoma City, he pitched 4.2 scoreless innings of no-hit ball and wound up allowing two hits in six scoreless innings en route to a no decision.

His recent resurgence has indeed been noteworthy.  Seemingly healthy, this might be Montero’s way of telling fans and the organization not to count him out yet.

Fine … but Montero, now 25 years old, must still prove he’s not just another bottle rocket in the night, and figure a way of getting that low 90s fastball and slider past major league hitters first.

That opportunity is sure to come sooner rather than later.