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Colorado Rockies prospects: No. 2, Benny Montgomery

The Rockies took a risk on the center fielder in 2021. Hopefully that pays off in his first full season of pro ball.

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2. Benny Montgomery (550 points, 20 ballots)

Benny Montgomery’s status as the eighth overall pick in the 2021 draft is a clear indication of his prospect level, as are scouting evaluations that show Montgomery with three plus tools (run, arm, field) with above-average power. The 6’4”, 200-pound Pennsylvania prep gave scouts pause at draft time with a big hitch in his swing that the Rockies will try to clean up, but the power potential is there along with excellent athleticism.

The 19-year-old righty-hitting outfielder was thought of as a player likely to go in the 10-20 range, but the Rockies liked the aforementioned tools that give Montgomery one of the highest ceilings of any 2021 draftee enough to pick him at eight and give him a slightly under-slot $5 million bonus.

Montgomery was assigned to the Arizona Complex League team for a brief 2021 debut. In 52 plate appearances across 14 games against competition about 1.9 years older on average, Montgomery hit .340/.404/.383 with just one extra-base hit but five steals in six attempts. Buoyed as the line was by a .421 BABIP and despite the lack of power, it equated to a 116 wRC+. It was a small sample but an encouraging first step for Montgomery.

Montgomery was assigned to Low-A to start 2022, again as a player 1.9 years younger than average. The good news is Montgomery hit his first professional homer — a solo shot in the season opener. The bad news is that was one of only two hits for him in his first 18 at-bats, including seven strikeouts.

Here’s some video of Montgomery hitting in late 2021 courtesy of FanGraphs. There’s not a lot of loud contact:

In the report accompanying the above video, FanGraphs ranked Montgomery 8th in the system as a 45 FV player in January:

Montgomery was a relatively divisive amateur prospect who became even more polarizing after his pro debut. The Pennsylvania high schooler was one of the toolsier high school players available, a big-framed center field prospect with rare athleticism and power projection, and fair batted ball showcase performance for a cold weather prospect. Detractors were scared of how cacophonous Montgomery’s swing was, and thought he’d need an overhaul to hit at all in pro ball. Model-driven teams rounded down on Montgomery because he was nearly 19 on draft day. Even though Montgomery’s swing was odd, he still put balls in play at a pretty good rate against his elite peers.

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When compared to other pro athletes on the complex, Montgomery’s frame still stands out for its projection, but his swing also looks much more clearly out of place, and his lower half usage was less athletic than the summer before. His hands are incredibly noisy and active in a couple different directions while the ball is in flight. Montgomery makes his best contact when he’s bent over the plate and diving toward the zone’s bottom corner, driving liners into the opposite field gap, but he isn’t great at turning on the baseball. Several of the other hitters in the org are adept at exactly the opposite of this, and are proficient inner-half hitters. It’s possible this is exactly the right org for the future of Montgomery’s swing but there is a huge gap between where it is now and what is typical of a viable big league hitter. Of course, Montgomery still managed to hit .340 across a two-week Complex sample. We had Montgomery as a mid-first round prospect, pre-draft, but he looked more like a late-first/sandwich round project during his pro summer and instructs.

The evaluation is highlighted by a 70 speed and 60 arm grade, with future plus raw power and a 55 future fielding grades.

Montgomery was ranked 15th among 2021 draft prospects by MLB.com and now is ranked 3rd as a 50 FV player:

Montgomery can do a lot of things well, albeit in somewhat unorthodox fashion. Some amateur scouts didn’t love how many moving parts he had in his swing, with a rigidity that had some worry about how it would work against better pitching. Still, he’s shown impressive contact skills at the start of his pro career, keeping his bat in the zone for a long time. The Rockies feel he’ll be able to get more efficient mechanically, with added strength helping him find better body control, which should help close some holes and help him get to his considerable raw power.

An easily plus runner, Montgomery should be able to use his wheels on both sides of the ball. He has the chance to be a center fielder for a long time, with a plus arm. He likes to learn and brings a ton of energy and personality to the field, all of which should help him reach his ceiling as an impact up-the-middle player with an exciting power-speed combination.

That evaluation is headlined by a 70 speed grade but Montgomery also gets 60 grades on his arm and fielding ability as well as a 55 for power.

Keith Law of the Athletic had ranked Montgomery lower than the others at 28th in his pre-draft rankings but he ranked Montgomery 3rd in the system in February, just outside his top 100:

The Rockies took Montgomery with the No. 8 pick in the 2021 draft, following the same template they used — successfully, so far — with Zac Veen the year before: Take the most athletic, high-upside position player still on the board. He’s a plus runner with plus raw power, but pro scouts who saw him over the summer and in instructs were concerned about the unique swing, which has a large hitch in it, and how well it will hold up against better pitching in full-season ball. Can he hit, and hit enough to get to the power in games? He has defense and position in his favor, as he’s more likely to stay in center field than Veen is, but he has to prove he can make that swing work against better pitchers than what he saw as a high schooler in Pennsylvania. He does have 20/20 upside with good defense in center if he hits, which would put him on the top 100 next year.

Kiley McDaniel at ESPN.com ranked Montgomery 10th pre-draft and listed him 3rd in the system as a 45+ FV player last month:

Montgomery was on the national scouting stage for a long time as a prep center fielder, notable for his plus bat speed and foot speed - along with his funky hand movement at the plate. He got bigger and stronger in his draft spring, leaping up to the No. 8 overall pick. How well his swing plays against advanced pitching and how well he shows in-game pull power will be what to watch this spring.

Baseball Prospectus put Montgomery 12th on their pre-draft prospect list and ranked him 2nd in the system back in November as a 55 OFP player:

It’s rare to watch a spectacle like a Home Run Derby and be able to glean much from a scouting standpoint given such a sterilized and specific environment. In the case of Montgomery, his performance at the Perfect Game All-American Classic in Oklahoma City was about as eye-opening as such an event can provide. Even with a hitchy swing that begins with an odd hand-cock and glides through the zone with an unusually flat bat-path, he was able to routinely barrel and lift the ball. Evaluators came away thinking Montgomery was immensely athletic and projectable, that he was coachable, and that he was one of the highest potential prospects heading into the 2021 draft. His frame is presently lean but strength is being added each day, where at full maturation there is a chance for a five-tool profile.

Raw yet toolsy, there will be some growing pains as his swing mechanics are re-worked and he adjusts to a professional schedule. Reports after the draft were not kind while at the Arizona Complex League; we’ll grant some latitude right off the bat.

Montgomery is a long way away (3-4 years is likely), but he possesses a star-level ceiling who will probably stick in center field. The scouting reports about his hit tool and results to date have me concerned, but taking risks on this type of player is exactly what I want the Rockies to do. I ranked Montgomery third on my list as a 50 FV player, acknowledging both his star potential and the risk relating from the long path he has to MLB generally and his swing change needs specifically.

Montgomery was compared to 2020 Rockies first-rounder (and top PuRP) Zac Veen even before the draft and those comparisons will be inevitable from now on as high school outfielders with excellent athleticism and plus power potential. Veen was more advanced offensively than Montgomery at the same stage, but Montgomery was a better defender and will probably stay in center field. The biggest difference between the two is that Veen has now shown he can be successful as a professional — let’s hope Montgomery can match him there this season in Low-A.