Mets may finally get some value from Rafael Montero to start season

Mar 29, 2017; Lake Buena Vista, FL, USA; New York Mets relief pitcher Rafael Montero (50) throws a pitch during the third inning of an MLB spring training baseball game against the Atlanta Braves at Champion Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports
Mar 29, 2017; Lake Buena Vista, FL, USA; New York Mets relief pitcher Rafael Montero (50) throws a pitch during the third inning of an MLB spring training baseball game against the Atlanta Braves at Champion Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports /
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“At one time, this kid’s name was the first one mentioned anytime we talked to a team about a trade and he was untouchable,” said one high-ranking Mets official. “This winter, we couldn’t give him away.”

These icy cold words, courtesy of the Daily News, embody Montero’s fall from grace. Just three springs ago, Montero’s name was mentioned amongst the Mets’ elite crop of pitching prospects. Renowned for his masterful control and gaudy strikeout rates (Yusmeiro Petit, anyone?), the then-23-year old righty was poised for a mid-season promotion to Citi Field. So it wasn’t all that shocking that a Met pitcher brought home the 2014 National League Rookie of the Year Award. It was just shocking that it wasn’t Montero.

After three seasons of demotions, phantom shoulder injuries, and a lot–seriously, a lot–of walks, Montero may have finally found his niche with the Mets.

With the news that Seth Lugo will be starting the season on the disabled list, the Mets will turn to their former top prospect. And maybe that’ll be a blessing in disguise. In 20 1/3 innings this spring, Montero has struck out 23 batters while surrendering only 1 home run and 4 runs. While he has allowed 8 walks, the Mets have been impressed with Montero’s ability to attack the strike zone this spring.

With the uncertainty surround Zack Wheeler’s ability to go deep into games, Montero will play a prominent role to start 2017. The Mets have been vocal about limiting his innings this season, so we shouldn’t expect many 7-inning outings in April. Fortunately, all of this allows us to give Montero one last chance. And I’m all about second (and third, and fourth…) chances.

Montero is only 26-years old. He sports a fastball that sits at 92-94 with a mid-80’s slider and strong changeup. While he has been afraid to use his secondary pitches in past seasons, he has displayed far more confidence–and effectiveness–with his breaking pitches this spring. The stuff is there. He’s young. And he was a top prospect for a reason.

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Although we can’t expect to see Montero blossom into the mid-rotation starter that we initially envisioned, is it that farfetched to turn him into an effective reliever? I think not.