I attended the Futures Game at Kauffman stadium last year, hoping to catch a glimpse of the prospects that earned a #1 ranking for the Kansas City Royals by Baseball America.
Let me tell you, from that one exhibition, I came away with a new twist on an old phrase:
“I have seen the future, and it is Mike Montgomery.”
But Mike Montgomery stood head and shoulders above them all.
No one was surprised. After all, he lit up spring training in Arizona and was only sent to Omaha for a little more seasoning.
Fast-forward one year, and Montgomery now not only isn’t ready for the big leagues, he seems headed in the wrong direction.
While all the news in Surprise this month swirled around contract extensions and injuries, Montgomery was quietly demoted to the minor league camp as the Royals trimmed their roster. This time around, he was one of the first to be cut.
That he didn’t make the roster isn’t shocking. But his downward spiral is. The big left-hander got blasted in his two trips to the mound in the Cactus League – 2 2/3 innings, six runs, six hits, three walks.
That disappointment comes when we all hoped for a bounce-back from the dismal 5-11 record and combustible 5.32 ERA he posted in Omaha last year.
“It was a struggle for him this year,” manager Ned Yost told reporters in Surprise. “He didn’t command the ball.”
Reading between the lines, Yost seems pretty frustrated with Montgomery’s showing.
“We wanted to see him come in and… compete for one of these spots, and it just never developed. We want him to go back and get his innings. He’s a guy that we think can come help us sometime over the course of the year, but that’s up to his performance.”
Obviously, Yost saw Montgomery as an integral piece of the youth movement. But as long as the prospects flounder, Yost has to continue to cobble together a rotation of veteran castoffs and stopgaps. (Jonathan Sanchez, Bruce Chen, Felipe Paulino, etc.)
What exactly is Montgomery’s problem?
Much was made last year of his disagreement with the organization over training methods. Montgomery has been a devotee of “long-toss” exercise, which the Royals don’t fully endorse.
Without any inside information, and because Yost gives no hint to Montgomery’s health being an issue, one has to speculate that one the following is occurring:
1) Montgomery is employing his own chosen training techniques, but they aren’t working.
2) Montgomery is being forced to follow the Royals’ prescribed regimen, and it’s not working.
3) Montgomery is allowing his frustration with the organization to affect his performance, and his “coach-ability.”
This is pure speculation, obviously. But something is most definitely wrong.
Back in January, Baseball America rated Montgomery the Royals’ top prospect. But he’s slipping down MLB.com’s list. Last year, Montgomery was rated the #14 prospect by MLB.com. This year, he fills the #31 spot.
That’s not the direction you want your stock heading.
I’m sure the Royals aren’t ready to give up on Montgomery yet. But with the “player to be named later” looming out there after the Humberto Quintero trade, I wouldn’t be surprised it that player turns out to be Montgomery. If Montgomery doesn’t want to train the way the Royals want him to, he may need to be sent elsewhere.
One year ago, the Royals farm system was flush with prospects. Former pitcher and current announcer Jeff Montgomery said at that time that the team was so loaded, it could handle failure from a fraction of those prospects.
But now, with injuries and attrition, each prospect seems like a precious resource. It’s painful to see any of them fail, particularly one of the most highly touted of all.