In 2017, the New York Yankees found a potential diamond in the rough with the debut of Jordan Montgomery, who put together an excellent rookie campaign.
Three years later, we haven’t gotten to see much more out of Montgomery, thanks to a lengthy recovery from Tommy John surgery. However, despite the lack of experience, Montgomery may have improved significantly from his first foray into the majors.
Granted, we’ll have to wait a bit longer to see him in meaningful action. Despite an impressive showing Montgomery won’t be on the Opening Day roster, but he shouldn’t be gone for long. Montgomery’s optioning down to the secondary roster was a product of the Yankees’ initial rotation strategy more than his skill, and there’s plenty of evidence to indicate he’ll be back with the main team before long.
As always, exhibition game states should be taken with a grain of salt, but on Sunday Montgomery carved the New York Mets lineup with ease. He pitched five scoreless innings in his team’s 6-0 win, with six strikeouts, two hits and a walk.
That night, Monty changed speeds with effectiveness, displaying pinpoint accuracy with his fastball and breaking pitches. He showed an incredible curveball that fooled Pete Alonso, Robinson Cano and some of the Mets’ best hitters, and looked like a formidable weapon:
Jordan Montgomery looked sharp tonight. #Yankees— Bronx Bombers News (@NewsBronx) July 20, 2020
A few days ago, Montgomery said that this is the best that he has felt in a while, arm strength-wise. He looks poised to at least repeat his 2017 numbers.
That would make Montgomery one of the Yankees’ most valuable assets from the starting rotation: that year, he had a 3.88 ERA (4.07 FIP) 8.34 K/9, 2.95 BB/9 and 2.6 fWAR in 29 starts and 155.1 innings.
His Sunday performance was a game-speed showcase of what Monty has shown throughout camp. His breaking pitches have life, and they’re pairing nicely with a fastball that has hovered in the low 90s and touched 95 mph. Maintaining his velocity gains would be huge, as he averaged 90.5 and 91.7 mph with the pitch in the injury-shortened 2018 and 2019 seasons, respectively.
Everybody knows the importance of fastball velocity: the hitter has less time to react and hit the ball hard, or at all. But it also sets up breaking and offspeed stuff effectively. It’s all about messing with hitters’ timing, and Montgomery excels at that.
Not that he had bad breaking stuff prior to this point, but it looked nasty at times on Sunday. He showed here that he can get swinging strikes with his curve while pitching close to the strike zone:
Jordan Montgomery breaking ball to Pete Alonso: pic.twitter.com/t6SvK7aEPa— BFH (@BFH_8799) July 19, 2020
And here, you can see him getting hitters to chase in the dirt:
Jordan Montgomery, Filthy Breaking Balls. pic.twitter.com/uEbHET5SqV— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) July 19, 2020
Montgomery has five pitches. He throws a four-seamer, a sinker, a slider, a changeup and a curve, with the latter being his favorite breaking pitch. In 2017, the last time he had a large sample size, hitters had a .218 xwOBA against his hook and a .241 mark vs. the slider. There is no reason that can’t happen again this time around, and if his fastball has more zip, look out.
Health will be the key
Due to his 6-foot-6 frame and long arms, Montgomery gets very nice extension, and it shows. Hitters have a hard time squaring him off, and it helps keep his delivery relatively effortless.
Those are very important ingredients in a crucial equation: his health. Montgomery already has a Tommy John surgery under his belt, one that took virtually two years of his career.
At this point, after going under the knife in 2018, he is ready to be unleashed. The kid gloves, as they say, should be off. Right now, Montgomery is healthy and hungry, and should he stay off the injured list, he should thrive in what is shaping up to be a very successful career.