LAKELAND, Fla. — Rafael Montero sat at his locker in the Mets spring training clubhouse texting and checking social media on his phone last week. Just to his left, in front of their row of lockers at the far end of the clubhouse sat the Mets’ expected starting rotation: Matt Harvey, Noah Syndergaard, Jacob deGrom, Steven Matz and Zack Wheeler.
Not too long ago, Montero’s name was mentioned in that dream rotation. When he was called up to the majors in 2014, Montero was slated as the star starter and deGrom was penciled into the bullpen. Montero was expected to be striking out major leaguers long before Syndergaard.
But this spring, Montero is on the edge, trying to hold onto his Mets career.
“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.”
He made his major-league debut in 2014, but spent most of 2015 on the disabled list with a baffling shoulder injury. Last year, the 26-year-old walked 40 batters in 80 innings for Triple-A Las Vegas before being demoted to Binghamton.
Last fall, some Mets coaches, including bullpen coach Ricky Bones, had a serious talk with Montero.
“It was a positive conversation, but it is time for him to be serious,” Bones said. “He needed to come to camp prepared to prove himself.”
This may be the last chance for the one-time top prospect to do that, and he has seemingly prepared himself. After a mysterious shoulder issue kept him on the disabled list for most of 2015, Montero came into camp with stronger arms and shoulders.
“Of course, the problem I was having in my shoulder was a little weak. Now that I strengthened it, it’s helped,” Montero said through the team interpreter. “Whether I am in the majors or minors, I am ready to do whatever work they want me to do.”
The Mets need a multiple-inning reliever to add to their bullpen. While there is some debate within the organization about using one of the starters in that role, possibly Seth Lugo, there is also an argument that they would like to stash starters to Las Vegas to keep them stretched out in case of emergency.
Montero could be a big surprise piece for the Mets. He started spring training well enough to get his name mentioned as a possible answer to the Mets’ need for a long-man. He pitched six scoreless innings over three appearances to start off spring, but then gave up runs in two straight outings. On Sunday he got back on track, holding the Tigers scoreless by scattering two hits and striking out two in 1.2 innings work.
“His control is better, his velocity is up, he’s using his slider a little more and he has a little more command of it,” Terry Collins said Sunday. “He’s throwing the ball good.”
Terry Collins rattled off a long list of possibilities for the final two spots in the bullpen, so Montero has to finish spring strong.
“Montero, Lugo, Gsellman, (Zack) Wheeler, (Josh) Edgin, (Josh) Smoker, (Tom) Gorzelanny and (Paul) Sewald, there are a lot of candidates,” the Mets manager said. “We’re just going to keep pitching them.”
After years of teasing the Mets in spring training, Montero needs to show them consistency, and that is what he prepared himself for this spring.
“Thank God that I am healthy this year,” Montero said. “I put in a lot of work in the (Dominican Republic). Now that I am here, I am doing the same thing, hoping I get good results.”
The Mets have the back-end of their bullpen settled even with Jeurys Familia expected to be serving a suspension for domestic violence to start the season. Addison Reed will close in his place and Fernando Salas will set-up with Hansel Robles likely pitching the seventh. Jerry Blevins is the lefty specialist and Josh Smoker is likely the second lefty. A Mets source said they have not seen anything from the lefties in camp that would make them consider bringing three lefthanders north with them.
So they have two spots in the bullpen open. Montero has thrown his name into the mix.
“There are a lot of pitchers here and I am not the one who makes the decision,” Montero said with a shrug.
Published at Sun, 12 Mar 2017 20:57:11 +0000