Monday, May 12, 2014
Meet soon-to-debut Rafael Montero
By Adam Rubin
NEW YORK -- While watching right-hander Rafael Montero throw live batting practice during spring training, Dan Warthen uttered two words to the bullpen catcher standing next to him.
“[Expletive] smooth!” the pitching coach excitedly said.
Warthen repeatedly has said that the 23-year-old Montero possesses as close to a perfect delivery as any in the game.
It will be on display Wednesday, when Montero is due to make his major league debut for the Mets in the Subway Series, opposite Masahiro Tanaka at Citi Field in the rotation slot formerly held by Jenrry Mejia.
Montero, rated just behind Noah Syndergaard on the organization’s pitching prospect list, said he learned his delivery from his brother Lluveri, who signed with the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2002, but quickly became injured and was released.
Adam RubinRafael Montero
“Thankfully I’ve been able to maintain that, and it’s been successful,” Montero said through interpreter Pedro Lopez, the organization’s Double-A manager.
The Mets signed the 6-foot Montero out of the Dominican Republic in 2011. He had a combined 12-7 record and 2.78 ERA in 27 starts last season between Double-A Binghamton and Triple-A Las Vegas.
Mets staffers rave about Montero’s control. He walked only 35 batters while striking out 150 in 155 1/3 innings last season. He had a 2.87 ERA, 1.11 WHIP and surrendered only two homers in nine home starts at Las Vegas’ Cashman Field, which is known as one of the most hitter-friendly ballparks in Triple-A.
This year, he is 4-1 with a 3.67 ERA in eight starts for the 51s. He tossed 5 1/3 no-hit innings in his last Triple-A start.
Montero started for the World team in last July’s Futures Game at Citi Field.
His fastball generally resides in the low-90s, but he has more in the tank when required.
“I talk to guys on other teams, like in Triple-A,” Kirk Nieuwenhuis said. “Come August and September, they’re just like, ‘That guy has an extra gear. His fastball has got an extra gear I can’t get to right now.’”
Said Juan Lagares: “He always tries to keep the ball down and he throws a lot of strikes. It’s not too easy to hit against him, because always he keeps it down in the strike zone. He doesn’t miss too much up.”
Nieuwenhuis, a lefty hitter, said Montero can be particularly tough on those batters.
“He must have long fingers or something, because when it comes out, for a lefty it kind of looks like it’s going to sneak in on you,” Nieuwenhuis said, adding that the two-seamer eventually darts back over the plate.
Said Montero: “As a pitcher, that’s what I look forward to -- facing the best competition, whether it’s [Albert] Pujols or anybody else.”
Note: This piece is retooled from a Feb. 25 spring-training feature