(Jordan Montgomery made his Triple-A debut last Aug. 2 but was the RailRiders’ ace when they won the National Championship Game on Sept. 20. He figured to open this season as their No. 1 again but will New York come calling first? Jason Farmer / Times-Tribune Photographer)
Our list of the Top 15 prospects who could help the Yankees this season has reached its final pitcher. Today, we take a look at No. 4, Jordan Montgomery.
Position: Starting pitcher
Weight: 225 pounds
40-man roster: No
Remember two days ago when I said that you could make a strong case that Chance Adams was the best starting pitcher in the Yankees’ organization last season? Well, Montgomery can make just as strong of an argument.
A year after posting a sub-3.00 ERA in his first full professional season, the southpaw began and spent the majority of 2016 at Double-A Trenton. He went 9-4 with a 2.55 ERA and 97 strikeouts in 19 starts (102 1/3 innings) and was named to the Eastern League’s postseason all-star team. Arguably his best performance, ironically, came in a loss on June 15 when he fired seven innings of five-hit ball, struck out a career-high 11 and allowed just one run.
For how good he was at Trenton, Montgomery was that much better when he joined the RailRiders on Aug. 2. His debut ended in a loss but through no fault of his own. After that, he was nearly untouchable for his final five starts of the regular season. Montgomery went 5-0 with a 0.59 ERA and 32 strikeouts in 30 1/3 innings. That included a stretch of 29 2/3 consecutive scoreless innings, which set a Scranton/Wilkes-Barre franchise record. He finished the regular season tied with Dietrich Enns for most wins (14) in the system and was second in ERA (2.13) and strikeouts (134)
Montgomery’s lone hiccup came in Game 1 of the Governors’ Cup finals when he failed to get out of the first inning. But he started and won both Game 1 of the semifinals and the Triple-A National Championship game, combining to strike out 10 and allow just one earned run over 12 innings.
Montgomery has a knack for being a big-game pitcher and it’s not just because of his playoff performances in 2016. While at the University of South Carolina, he went 5-0 with a 0.93 ERA in five starts during the NCAA Tournament. When you prove you can step up when the spotlight is bright, teams will take notice, which is what the Yankees did in the fourth round of the 2014 draft.
Many noted that Montgomery wasn’t overpowering in college and he still isn’t now. But he’s certainly added some velocity with his fastball, which usually sits in the 92-94 mph range. His best secondary pitch is easily the changeup but he can also throw his curveball and cutter for strikes at any times.
Two things that really stick out about Montgomery on the mound. One is that he’s going to attack hitters and really emphasize the bottom of the strike zone, which usually results in ground balls and strikeouts. Arguably, though, what helps him the most is his ability to throw all four pitches from the same arm slot. Montgomery is big to begin with but it’s so hard for hitters to pick the ball up out of his hands because of where he releases it, as you’ll see in the videos below.
Here’s a Yankees profile on Montgomery shot during a visit to PNC Field last summer. As is the norm, you’ll get highlights and analysis on what makes him so effective from the likes of RailRiders pitching coach Tommy Phelps and Adams.
This video is from Montgomery’s Triple-A debut against Lehigh Valley. He took the loss but pitched well enough to win, as you’ll see. The video runs a little bit longer but is filmed from behind home plate and on the first-base line to give you a better understanding of Montgomery’s mechanics.
And here’s some footage from a 2015 outing at High-A Tampa.
Raise your hand if you thought Montgomery — a non-roster invitee — would make the Yankees’ Opening Day roster prior to the start of spring training last month. Guessing there aren’t too many hands. Yet, here we are three days before the Yankees open the season at Tampa Bay and Montgomery has a very realistic chance to be the Yankees’ No. 4 starter.
Montgomery has shined when given his opportunities, while the other three candidates currently left in the competition — Luis Severino, Bryan Mitchell and Chad Green — have failed to truly create some sort of obvious separation. In six appearances (two starts), Montgomery is 1-0 with a 3.20 ERA, 17 strikeouts and just three walks allowed in 19 2/3 innings. He also notched a four-inning save to complete a combined no-hitter against Detroit on March 17.
While it’s not public knowledge yet, Brian Cashman said Wednesday afternoon that the Yankees have made their decision on the No. 4 starter and that that pitcher has been informed. Cashman also said that the announcement will come from manager Joe Girardi whenever he feels comfortable doing so.
What happens if Montgomery isn’t the guy? Well, the Yankees still need a No. 5 starter but not until April 16 because they have three scheduled off days in the first 10 days of the season. Basically, it means that whoever the fifth guy is likely will make two starts with the RailRiders before making his 2017 big league debut.
What does it all mean for Montgomery? Well, it’s a certainty that he will be a starter going into the season. It’s just a matter of whether it’s with New York or Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. And it seems pretty clear — to me, at least — that even if Montgomery isn’t the fourth or fifth starter, he’s going to get a chance with the Yankees, which I presumed was going to be the case before camp started based solely off how good he was last year. It just looks like it’s going to come much sooner than anyone expected.