New York Yankees: Is Mark Montgomery Bronx Bombers Closer in Waiting?
It’s not going to be quite the same thing. In 2007, Joba Chamberlain blew through the Yankees’ farm system. He was a starter with a triple digit fastball and if you were lucky enough to watch him every game and cut highlights of him during an ESPN internship like I was, you saw his slider every other night. That thing seemed to drop twice that year. It would literally disappear at a speed close to 90 miles per hour.
If your name wasn’t Mike Lowell, you couldn’t see it most of the time. I remember I used to play games with myself predicting how many strikeouts he would have that inning and waiting for him to drop the slider was like waiting for the ball to drop on New Years Eve.
Joba Chamberlain was a starter used in necessity as a reliever. And he was one of the most dominant relievers we will ever see in his 24 innings of the regular season that year.
In 2013, things are going to be a lot different. The bridge to Mariano Rivera isn’t as clear as it was last season but it won’t be as ambiguous as it was back then. Rafael Soriano is gone and David Robertson stands to be the go-to out of Spring Training in the eighth inning.
If Rivera or Robertson are compromised in any way, Chamberlain himself and David Aardsma will be next in command. All four pitchers at one time or another have either closed games or been tabbed the heir replacement to the Great Rivera himself. But the real reason the Yankees are a near lock to have an elite bullpen once again this season more has to do with what is lurking in the minor league system.
Brian Cashman has proven he knows how to put together one very old and very talented lineup. That’s what the Yankees are. Extremely old and therefore prone to decline and injury, but also absurdly talented. When all is said and done, New York may very well have three first ballot Hall of Famers in their lineup, Alex Rodriguez, Derek Jeter and Ichiro Suzuki, two guys capable of 35+ HR, Mark Teixeira and Curtis Granderson, and an outfielder in his prime Brett Gardner, capable of stealing 40 bases. Of course, all three future Hall of Famers are well past their primes, both power hitters have been in decline for multiple seasons and the guy capable of stealing 40 bases couldn’t even reach 40 at bats because of health problems last year.
Cashman has also proven he can get enough rotation talent and depth to field a contender every season. While the Yankees’ GM has yet to make his usual veteran starter signing to compete for the fifth spot, he has filled the rotation nicely by bringing back Hiroki Kuroda and Andy Pettitte to accompany CC Sabathia, Phil Hughes and Ivan Nova.
David Phelps and Michael Pineda are built in depth and Cashman is likely to sign one or two other low-cost arms to add to the stockpile. Provided CC’s problems are behind him (he is rumored to have lost significant weight this offseason), Kuroda can stay healthy as he has his entire career, Pettitte doesn’t get hit by a line drive again, Nova can rebound from a sophomore slump and Hughes can take advantage of his walk year, the rotation could be elite, or just simply solid.
So really, we’re talking about the bullpen. Aardsma is somewhat of a question mark, finally healthy for the first time since 2011. Chamberlain is trying to build some value while Robertson is trying to claim the reigns from Rivera, who will almost assuredly retire after this season.
All four, plus Phelps if he doesn’t crack the rotation, Boone Logan, Clay Rapada and the usual suspects, are likely challengers for the bullpen come April. But if any of the late-inning arms falter or struggle, or more realistically if Chamberlain and Rivera or Aardsma get hurt, the knight in shining armor should be Mark Montgomery.
Montgomery is a major prospect who doesn’t carry more weight in trade rumors because he is a reliever. Don’t get it twisted though, if Yankees’ fans can appreciate anything, it’s the asset of a great reliever and Montgomery has that for a ceiling. He’s a righty with a solid 200 lb frame who can throw multiple innings if need be and is lighting up the minor leagues with a low 90′s fastball and a filthy slider. Montgomery’s fastball should be similar to Robertson’s, in the low 90′s but effective, and his slider is much like Robertson’s curveball; devastating. The difference is Montgomery has no history of control problems and it has shown in his performances.
The former shortstop began his rise his junior year of college where a 0.89 ERA with 48 strikeouts in just over 30 innings earned him an 11th round draft pick by the Yankees in 2011.
From there, the confident righty with a closer’s demeanor struck out 61 batters and walked just 16 in 40.1 innings of A ball, posting a 1.34 ERA and 0.96 WHIP. A promotion to AA Trenton provided even better results. Montgomery blew through AA in a limited sample size, posting 24 innings of 1.88 ERA, 0.75 WHIP, striking out 38 and walking just six batters.
In 103 minor league innings, Mark Montgomery has allowed just one home run.
In his rising stars inning performance for the Arizona Fall League, Montgomery struck out the side. He almost always dominates right-handed hitters. This spring he should be spending time alongside Rivera, who has been known to tutor talented young relievers and make them better like he did with Robertson.
Mark Montgomery has the ability and may have the opportunity to make the same sort of impact Joba Chamberlain did six years ago. In the American League East, the Yankees may need him to and Montgomery, if he starts off well, could be one of the Yankees’ truly high caliber prospects to see the majors this year (Slade Heathcott has an outside chance as well).
The difference is regardless of how dominant the Yankees’ prized bullpen prospect is, there will be no controversy as for his role in the future. We may very well see the torch getting passed down and it may be to a pitcher nobody has see in the pinstripes before.