5. Elehuris Montero (505 points, 20 ballots)
Elehuris Montero was either the most or second-most prominent player coming back from St. Louis in the Nolan Arenado trade last February, depending on how you felt about Austin Gomber at the time. The 23-year-old righty-hitting corner infielder signed with the Cardinals for $300k out of the Dominican Republic back in 2014. Over the next five seasons the 6’3”, 235-pound bruiser made enough of an impression to be added to the Cardinals 40-man roster after the 2019 season despite breaking his hamate bone, an injury that sapped his power that year.
Montero played in the Arizona Fall League at the end of 2019 and was at St. Louis’ alternate site in 2020. After the trade to the Rockies, Montero was assigned to repeat the Double-A level in 2021, this time with Hartford. In his second minor league option year, Montero responded really well to the Double-A assignment against pitchers who were 1.9 years older on average. In 379 plate appearances with Hartford, Montero was healthy (outside a 10-day IL stint in mid-August) and productive.
Montero’s .279/.362/.523 line included 22 home runs and 34 extra-base hits overall, good for a 137 wRC+. That batting line was paced by a thermonuclear July in which Montero hit .416/.467/.831 with 12 homers. Moreover, Montero roughly doubled his 2019 walk rate (from 6 to 11%) while cutting his strikeout rate (from 31 to 24%), a major improvement given that his impatient offensive approach was a major knock on his profile entering the season. Montero hit well against right-handers (.870 OPS) but really crushed lefties (.967 OPS). Defensively, Montero split time between first and third base roughly equally, though he committed 13 errors at third against three at first.
In early September, Montero was called up to Triple-A Albuquerque, where he was 4.7 years younger than league average. In 121 plate appearances across 28 games, Montero continued his power surge. He hit .278/.355/.546 with another six homers and 16 extra-base hits for the Isotopes, which in the supercharged Triple-A offensive environment was worth 119 wRC+. Roughly 2⁄3 of his games were at third base, where he committed six of his seven errors at the level.
Montero was assigned to repeat at Albuquerque this year, his third minor league option season. In his first six games, Montero is beasting again with a .273/.407/.591 start that includes two homers.
Here’s some tape of Montero from the 2019 Arizona Fall League courtesy of Fangraphs:
In the report accompanying the above video, Fangraphs put Montero 6th on their Rockies org look in January as a 45 FV player:
During the 2019 regular season, Montero averaged just shy of 2.5 pitches per plate appearance, a rate that would have made him the most aggressive hitter in the majors by a comfortable margin (Willians Astudillo averaged 2.9 pitches per PA that year). For a corner defender, that was a very scary thing, and Montero was just a 40 FV prospect on last year’s list primarily because of the bust risk associated with poor plate discipline. He had a much better 2021 season in this regard. His walk rate nearly doubled, he saw about 3.8 pitches per plate appearance during the year, and his 46% Swing% combined at Triple-A and while with Estrellas in the Dominican Winter League is close to the big league average.
If this is a real, sustained development, then Montero is going to be a valuable big league hitter very soon. His swing is simple but he still has the strength to do damage (this guy’s going to hit 40 annual doubles at Coors) without an elaborate cut, he covers the whole plate, and while he’s vulnerable to well-located breaking balls, he punishes the ones that don’t quite finish. He’s also held serve as a viable third baseman and has experience at first. We still have Montero projected as more of a second-division regular sort because the hit/power combination is more solid than exceptional, and because it’s possible there will be a regression to his career mean in the plate discipline department.
Montero is currently 4th in the system on MLB.com’s ranking as a 50 FV player:
It took a little while for Montero to get comfortable in his new organization. Once he settled in and connected with organizational coaches like Andy Gonzalez and Darin Everson, he got back on track, making incredible strides in pitch recognition and cutting his chase rate. Increased patience allowed him to elevate the ball and get to his prodigious raw power more consistently, and Montero loves talking about and studying hitting.
In addition to refining his approach, the Rockies worked with Montero on adding first base to his defensive portfolio. He has really good hands and moves very well for his size, but first base might be the best spot for him long term. At the very least, the positional flexibility gives added options to get his bat into the lineup.
[Montero] has plus raw power and above-average bat control, but below-average pitch selection can undermine both. Montero is just OK at third base, but, like many of the position players in this range, fits somewhere from a platoon player to low-end starter.
Keith Law of the Athletic put Montero 5th in the system in February after previously ranking him in the overall top 100:
Montero got the do-over he needed in Double-A after flopping at that level in 2019, making a two-level jump only to try to hit with a broken hamate bone in his left wrist. He hit .279/.362/.523 for Double-A Hartford before a late promotion to Albuquerque, where he slugged .546 in 28 games and continued to put the ball in play. He’s a bad third baseman and capable enough at first, but there seems to be enough hit/power here that he could end up a solid regular.
Baseball Prospectus ranked Montero 8th in their November system write-up as a 50 OFP player:
Montero’s swing is a coiled, leveraged, mighty hack—geared for power over hit, launch over barrel control. He can get long or pull off righty spin and pops up his fair share while trying to lift the ball, but he could sneak out above-average game power despite a below-average hit tool projection.
Montero looked to be in better shape this year and played a passable third base, but is a better fit at first—although his footwork wasn’t great there either. A lot of things have to go right for Montero to be a regular, but his ability to play both infield corners and mash lefties should allow him to carve out a bench role if the swing-and-miss doesn’t get significantly worse in the majors. Despite the gaudy 2021 stat line, Montero doesn’t have huge upside given the hit tool and defensive limitations, but the pop might be enough for him to continue to air it out every day at a corner in the friendly confines of Coors.
There is still some risk he just doesn’t make enough contact or enough good contact to get the power into games even in the thin air of Denver, but Montero has all but conquered the upper minors.
Montero showed well in 2021 and so far this year with a lot of scrutiny upon him. He’ll never be Nolan Arenado (especially with the glove), but Montero is hitting like he could mash at the big league level as a regular. I ranked Montero sixth on my list as a 45 FV player because I believe in the bat’s potential but don’t know what his big league role will be.
Montero is another high-ranking PuRP in that corner infield playing time logjam, along with Michael Toglia, Colton Welker, and Ryan Vilade (sort of) behind the established big leaguers. Montero is in his third minor league option year, limiting the time he has to show he deserves that playing time over both prospects and veterans with big league service time. The arrival of the DH to the NL will help find at-bats for more players, but there’s still a lot of competition. Nonetheless, Montero has put himself in a good place with his performance in Colorado’s system to play a big league role as soon as this season.