By Todd Johnson
The basic concept to selecting a player in the draft can be distilled down to one thought: Find players were going to be great at the peak of their careers. It is not just about finding players who are good now or who have put up gaudy stats in college or high school. It really boils down to finding projectable players.
The past two posts about the draft discussed two such players who the Cubs might select in the second round and beyond. Today’s profile examines a player who the Cubs could take in a very distinct range. Pitcher Justin Montgomery from Cal Baptist is right at the tail end of Baseball America’s Top 200 draft prospects. With the season he is also having, he is not going to stay there for long. As a result, if the Cubs are going to select Montgomery, it is more than likely they will have to do so with their pick in the third or fourth round (#99 or #129).
The California Baptist right-hander spent his first two years of college in a variety of roles. His freshman year saw him in the bullpen and his sophomore year saw him make a few starts (5) and continue to come out of the bullpen (10 times). But after last summer’s All-Star turn in the Cape Cod League, Montgomery is beginning to put things together as a full-time starter.
The Cubs Director of Scouting, Jason McLeod, really values wooden bat league experience. Playing in the Cape against elite competition is a step up for most college players. Considering that Montgomery is coming from a Division II program (which will be Division I in 2019) and his previous role on the team in college, his performance was a huge jump in his development. Montgomery is a great example of McLeod’s philosophy of how important experiences can play in a prospect’s draft profile.
At 6’6″, and probably still growing, Montgomery has a very projectable frame to add more muscle. He currently throws his fastball on average at 93. He can go a couple clicks higher on occasion and a couple clicks lower. He is still working on his offspeed pitches but his command is much improved as his walk rate has decreased each year in college.
His success on the Cape can be directly attributed to his command. He only walked 12 in 33 IP while striking out 33. Using his big frame, Montgomery comes over the top and his pitches are on a steep downhill plane that makes it hard for the hitter to square up. He has a nice slider that complements his fastball. The slider is tight and tends to break late. It acts more like a cutter than a slider.
As a result of the Cape experience, his junior season has been stand out start after stand out start. He’s thrown 25 innings over 5 starts with a 1.80 ERA. Montgomery has struck out 27 but walked 17 while allowing just 1 HR. He’s only allowed 15 hits all year. If he could collapse his walk rate, he could be something special.
Montgomery’s ascension into the upper rounds of day two is a very real possibility. If he continues to impress, waiting to take him at the end of the fourth round might be a huge risk. The Cubs are not looking at prospects in a vacuum. There are other teams out there noticing the same things that the Cubs are noticing.
While selecting him in the top 100 at the end of the third round seems a bit of an over evaluation at this point, there still two months of baseball yet to play. Then again, it goes back to the adage that you want players who will improve over the course of their career. Montgomery fits that bill. Just how much he will improve with pro coaching is still up for debate.
One thing in Montgomery’s favor is that he does go to a pitching centric university that has produced almost 20 major league pitchers, including 4 in AAA in 2018. Another one of them, Tyson Miller, should be at Myrtle Beach for the Cubs this summer.