It’s probably going to be the first of a few within the next few weeks in the Rockies farm system. 23-year-old Daniel Montano recently got the call that he was being promoted from High-A Spokane to Double-A Hartford. The lefty-hitting outfielder was slashing .321/.420/.523 in Spokane, and will be headed towards what’s universally considered the hardest challenge in the Minors, the transition from High-A to Double-A. It’s been a long time coming, but Montano is starting to show why the Rockies splashed a $2 million signing bonus all the way back in 2015, when he was just 16. Let’s take a look at his trajectory so far and preview some of the other moves that might be looming.
How Montano Fell Off Prospect Lists
Montano was always considered a bat-first centerfielder, even when he signed, but his wide-shouldered frame that projected good power and his quick hands made it easier to project a move to a corner. Montano hit well enough through 2017 playing in the DSL and even with a mediocre 2018, his pedigree and tools were enough to keep him mentioned. Then, 2019 happened. The predicted slide down the defensive spectrum kicked into high gear, with Montano seeing more time at the corners than in center. That wouldn’t have been so bad had he mashed, but he did the opposite: the then 20-year-old Venezuelan hit an anemic .218/.274/.344 (80 wRC+) at Low-A Asheville. He walked very little, struck out almost a fourth of the time and hit for no power to speak of in 504 brutal plate appearances. That showing caused him to slide off most prospect lists or become a total afterthought in the ones he did appear on.
There’s a Pulse
As a young man with a lot to prove, the lost 2020 Minor League season was a big blow to Montano, and he entered 2021 as a 22-year-old corner outfielder in Low-A who hadn’t posted an above-average batting line in four years. The lefty responded well, however, hitting .301/.380/.446 (120 wRC+) and earning a mid-season promotion to High-A, where his groundball rate skyrocketed and he slumped yet again to a measly .283/.353/.337 (92 wRC+) line. He was tasked with repeating the level this season, and hit a bonkers .321/.420/.523 (167 wRC+), topping it off with a Northwest League Player of the Week award before his promotion to Double-A Hartford.
Most remarkable this season has been how Montano’s walk and strikeout rates have trended. He’s comfortably set affiliated ball career bests in walk rate (15%) and strikeout rate (18.8%) in Spokane this season while posting a 8.6% swinging strike rate (also a career best and far better than MLB average) after posting a swinging strike rate of nearly 12% last season. The groundball issue has disappeared upon his second crack at High-A and Montano just posted his first ISO (isolated power) above .200 in his pro career. Most of that power has been of the gap variety so far (11 doubles and 4 triples in 32 games), however, but developing home run power later than expected isn’t something new. Let’s not forget that Montano lost a key year of development. This new challenge at Double-A will be the toughest he’s faced so far. I’ll be rooting for the young man and watching the box scores!
(Morning-after edit: Montano went 3-for-4 with a run scored and a stolen base in his Double-A debut!)
The Start Of More Moves?
Montano isn’t the only outfielder getting a promotion. Braiden Ward, also 23 years old, is taking the Venezuelan’s spot in the Spokane outfield after hitting .367/.487/.533 in Low-A Fresno, and there a few Rockies prospects playing excellent ball at their respective levels right now. The most obvious name is 20-year-old phenom Ezequiel Tovar, of course (seriously, he’s hitting .326/.408/.593 in Double-A as a shortstop with a plus glove. Like, what?), who’s probably going to force the Rockies’ hand sooner rather than later. Three other guys I’d like to mention as well are first baseman Grant Lavigne (hitting .291/.395/.454 at High-A) and three starting pitchers: righty Mike Ruff (2.76 ERA in 45.2 innings at High-A), lefty Mason Green (1.93 ERA, 3.25 FIP in 46.2 innings at Low-A) and righty Karl Kauffmann (3.75 ERA, 3.17 FIP, 11.3 K/9 at Double-A). Kauffmann and Ruff are both coming off getting rocked in their previous starts, so they may find that a reason to wait just a tiny bit longer.
Are there any other players you fine readers believe are deserving of a promotion soon enough? The torrent of injuries among many of the organization’s pitching prospects narrow the list down quite a bit, but still.
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C.J. Cron has never been an All-Star, but he’s hitting .307/.356/577 with 13 HR and 37 RBI, and that’s going to get some attention. If you want a sleeper pick, how about Yonathan Daza, who’s slashing .359/.409/.417 with solid defense in the outfield? Or reliever Tyler Kinley, who has a 0.95 ERA with 22 strikeouts in 19.0 innings of high leverage work?
The first game of the doubleheader starts at 1:10 p.m. MT, and the second will begin 45 minutes after the end of the first. Antonio Senzatela will make his return from a short IL stint and start the first of the two ballgames, with righty Germán Márquez looking to get back on track in the following game.
On The Farm
The Isotopes (now 21-28) were soundly defeated by Sugar Land in the series opener. Starter Dillon Overton was chased with nobody out in the second inning after the first seven Space Cowboys reached base, and his final line (1.0 IP, 7 H, 7 ER, 3 BB, 2 K, 1 HR) is all you need to know about his outing. The Isotopes also went 2-for-12 with runners in scoring position and the good games of Elehuris Montero (3-for-5 with a double and an RBI), Bret Boswell (3-for-3 with a walk) and Sean Bouchard (1-for-4 with a homer and two RBI) went to waste. Albuquerque will look to rebound from the loss today with rehabbing righty Peter Lambert (0-1, 1.50 ERA) making his fourth AAA start.
The Yard Goats (now 29-17) keep on winnin’. They’re now 11-3 over their last fourteen games after a convincing shutout win that saw Daniel Montano’s Double-A debut (3-for-4 with a run scored and a stolen base), solo homers from Michael Toglia and Brenton Doyle, Ezequiel Tovar extending his hit streak to 12 games and a tremendous performance from the pitching staff. Starter Noah Gotsis (5.0 IP, 3 H, 0 ER, 4 BB, 3 K) was not precise but effective, getting his first win of the season, but the real star was reliever Fineas Del Bonta-Smith, who tossed 2.1 perfect innings in relief, fanning five of the seven batters he faced. The Yard Goats allowed just three hits in the ballgame, and will try to keep up their red-hot pace today. Their starter is TBD at the time of writing this piece.
A one-run loss for a Spokane Indians team (now 24-20) that’s in a bit of a slump as of late, having lost four of their last five ballgames. This one was close in the scoreboard but Spokane’s lineup was shut down for almost the entire game, striking out 13 times and managing just three hits and three walks. They strung together a three-run rally in the top of the 5th, but it wasn’t enough to overcome starter Mike Ruff’s tough outing (4.0 IP, 8 H, 4 ER, 1 BB, 4 K, 1 HR). Reliever Austin Kitchen was spectacular in relief, tossing four clean, no-hit innings and whiffing six Vancouver batters in the process, but the bats went quietly after the 6th and the final six outs were all made on strikes. Braiden Ward doubled and drove in a pair of runs in four ABs in his Spokane debut, and Zac Veen was on base three times in the loss. Spokane will attempt to get back to their winning ways today in the second game of the series. Their starter is TBD at the time of writing this piece.
Make that win number 30 for the now 30-16 Fresno Grizzlies (the first of the Rockies MiLB affiliates to reach the mark this season), who in this ballgame took a first-inning lead they would never relinquish. That rally in the opening frame featured a whopping four extra-base hits, including a three-run blast from Hunter Goodman (13th of the season). Three of those came with two strikes. Starter Jarrod Cande wasn’t at his sharpest in his first start of the season (4.0 IP, 4 H, 2 ER, 2 BB, 1 K, 0 HR) but reliever Sergio Sánchez was, tossing three innings of scoreless, hitless ball, striking out four and getting his fourth win of the season in relief. In fact, the Fresno bullpen didn’t allow a single hit all game. Five different Grizzlies reached base at least twice, and Warming Bernabel (3-for-5), Yanquiel Fernández (2-for-4 with a double and a walk) and Juan Brito (1-for-3 with two walks) all reached three times. Fresno will try to make it three wins in a row today with 20-year-old righty Case Williams (2-1, 3.86 ERA) on the bump, who’s on quite the run. Over his last five starts, he’s gone 29.1 innings and allowed just 7 runs, with 41 strikeouts to 9 walks. He’s pitched 6+ innings in each of previous four outings.
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