It’s tough being the main prospect piece in a trade involving a superstar. Right or wrong, the Nolan Arenado trade will always loom over Elehuris Montero for some during his time as a Rockie. Montero teared through the upper Minors in 2021 with an improved approach, as he became more disciplined than he had been in years past, taking more walks and seeing more pitches, and ended up hitting .278/.360/.529 across Double-A and Triple-A as a 22-year-old, with 28 home runs and 50 total extra-base hits in 120 games. With a bit of a crowded situation ahead of him in two natural positions of third and first base and the DH spot likely occupied by Charlie Blackmon, there was some doubt as to just how the Rockies were going to find at-bats for him considering their affinity for veterans, but the young Dominican has forced their hand. Montero’s hit .310/.392/.541 in Triple-A this season, and the picture is clear: he has nothing left to prove at Albuquerque. He needs MLB at-bats. How is he doing so far?
His First MLB Look(s)
Those concerns about how many at-bats he’d get materialized. In May, June and July, Montero was optioned up and down three separate times, rarely getting consecutive starts in the big leagues and often playing just once or twice per week as he got used to MLB-caliber flights. Unsurprisingly, he didn’t hit well when he got a chance to play. Montero hit .177/.200/.235 overall and struck out 15 times in 35 PA’s. But some of the underlying metrics were encouraging enough.
In his first stint with the big league club, Montero hit a measly .182 and slugged the same, .182, against fastballs, but don’t let that fool you: his expected batting average and slugging percentage based on his quality of contact were .361 and .714 respectively. Montero was putting good swings on heaters. As someone who watched most of his plate appearances, I can tell you that he had more deep, sharp flyouts than I could count. The problem for Montero wasn’t the fastballs, it was the breaking balls.
In those first few MLB plate appearances, opposing pitchers threw Montero a whopping 65.7% non-fastballs - in particular, a ton of sliders - and he struggled mightily against them, batting just .174/.208/.261, striking out half the time when a PA ended in one and generally looking overwhelmed. This is normal for rookies, of course, and getting sporadic playing time couldn’t have helped. He took a lot of breaking balls for strikes, chased bad ones in most counts and looked off balance. He was sent back to Triple-A, raked again, and was finally called up and made a regular right at the beginning of August.
Montero has been playing well ever since, starting almost every ballgame and splitting time between third base, first base and the DH spot. He’s rewarded Bud Black with a .326/.340/.522 slash line (this was written prior to yesterday’s ballgame at St. Louis), and has generally looked like a proper and consistent major leaguer for the first time in his very young career. Let’s see what’s changed, what’s remained similar, and the path forward for a very promising young hitter. How’s he done it?
An Improvement Against Breaking Balls
We talked about how Montero hit very poorly against non-fastballs in his first few rodeos against big league pitching, and that’s changed the second time around. Montero was hitting .318/.348/.409 against breaking and offspeed pitches since becoming a regular. His recognition has improved, and some of those breakers he used to freeze on and take for strikes early in counts are now being hunted with more malice:
Elehuris Montero's 2-RBI single pic.twitter.com/ANJlFqhsoJ— RoxGifsVids (@RoxGifsVids) August 6, 2022
And another example:
Elehuris Montero gets Rockies on the board in the 6th pic.twitter.com/KVYNvFoM86— RoxGifsVids (@RoxGifsVids) August 14, 2022
Montero is also hitting very well against fastballs, batting .333 and slugging .625 against them since returning from ABQ. His first MLB homer, an 8th-inning shot off Merrill Kelly, came on a heater at the knees he scooped up and lifted out at Arizona:
Elehuris Montero's 1st career home run! pic.twitter.com/MBTixeZgcf— RoxGifsVids (@RoxGifsVids) August 7, 2022
Montero is still not a complete hitter, of course, and he still swings and misses often against non-fastballs. He’s also walked just one time in 84 MLB plate appearances, although that should regress a bit towards the mean with more playing time - he’s aggressive, but not Tim Anderson levels of aggressive - and compensate a bit. The most exciting part of Montero, however, is his batted ball profile.
The Cheat Code
What is the ideal batted ball profile for a hitter? Let’s go over it.
You’d like to hit few groundballs, but you’d also like to hit few pop-ups.
Of course, those two goals often clash with each other. Many of the more extreme flyball hitters in the Majors (think Nolan Arenado, Joey Gallo, etc) also have a tendency to hit more pop-ups than you’d like, because their swing and approach works in a way that if they mishit, it’s likely to be because they got under the ball. On the other hand, if you rarely pop it up, chances are that flatter swing (think Brendan Rodgers, Tim Anderson, etc) also tends to send a lot of balls towards the ground. It’s how that dynamic works. Not for Montero, though! Sample sizes and all, but Montero is currently rocking an extremely low 30.8% groundball rate and a low 5.8% pop-up rate. Almost two thirds of batted ball events for his are line drives or flyballs, which speaks to a good swing path geared for damage.
Opposite field flyballs are hard to do damage with
This is no secret, especially now with the normal baseballs. It takes significant strength to do damage with oppo flyballs, but Montero doesn’t have that problem. Of his 15 flyballs hit, 13 of them have been pulled or hit straightaway. The Rockies have two hitters in Ryan McMahon and Brendan Rodgers who see their potential power output diminished by their struggles to pull flyballs, and Montero is looking like he won’t have that problem.
Hit the ball hard!
Here’s something crazy: hitting the ball hard is very good for a batter. I know, right? Montero has done just that in the big leagues. His average exit velo of 91.3 MPH is the best on the Rockies alongside Sam Hilliard, and around Manny Machado / Ronald Acuña Jr. territory. Of course, as Hilliard shows, just hitting the ball hard isn’t enough to be a good major league hitter, but it’s an important skill to have.
Montero does all three of these things well. He hits line drives and flyballs, he pulls the ball well, and he hits it hard. The damage he does on contact is similar to C.J. Cron, after all. The remaining parts of the equation for him lie in improved discipline. More walks, a few less strikeouts, and we’re looking at a good MLB hitter. Where he fits in the long-term picture is a bit difficult to say with how clogged the corner spots are in the Rockies organization, but if Montero hits well, common sense will find a permanent spot for him. He’s shown himself a very competent defender at third base and a terrific fielder over at first, and the DH spot is always a possibility. We’ll see where the road takes him, but Elehuris Montero is proving he belongs in the Show, and I’m very excited to see him grow further as a hitter in the near future.
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For MLB dot com, the top five is Zac Veen, Ezequiel Tovar, Adael Amador, Drew Romo and Elehuris Montero, in that order. The biggest rise belongs to Amador and the biggest fall belongs to injured left-hander Ryan Rolison. Harding mentions Michael Toglia as a potential call-up in September.
On The Farm
Albuquerque dropped the first game of the series at Tacoma, falling to 50-61 on the season. Ashton Goudeau (5.0, 6 H, 5 R, 3 BB, 2 K, 4 HR) got blitzed in a weird way, giving up four longballs against the Rainiers but “only” five runs. The game was in reach until the bottom of the 8th, when Tacoma rallied against Julián Fernández and tagged three runs on him to make it 8-4. It wasn’t all bad, however. Michael Toglia had himself a ballgame on his birthday, going 2-for-4 with a double, a home run and three RBI.
A three-run jack for the birthday boy!!!@MichaelToglia went to high school about 14 miles away from Tacoma, he makes his first AB back home one he will never forget.— Albuquerque Isotopes (@ABQTopes) August 16, 2022
M1: Isotopes 3, Rainiers 0 pic.twitter.com/5rhFgqMoq4
Sean Bouchard homered as well, and his season slash at Albuquerque now sits at .314/.411/.650, impressive even for PCL standards (call him up and give him a shot!). Brandon Gold (5-5, 6.40 ERA) will be up next on the mound for the Isotopes, trying to stop a three-game losing streak.
An offensive struggle for the Yard Goats (63-45), who managed just one extra-base hit all game and were held to three hits in the ballgame. Noah Gotsis was solid enough on the mound (5.0 IP, 3 H, 2 R, 1 BB, 3 K, 1 HR), but he takes a tough loss despite recovering well from a two-run top of the first. Grant Lavigne was the only batter in the lineup to make an impact, going 1-for-2 with a triple and a pair of walks and scoring Hartford’s lone run. Among the struggling was top prospect Zac Veen, who went 0-for-4 and was caught stealing. Veen’s had a difficult time with his promotion to Double-A so far in a limited sample size, hitting just .222/.276/.259 as a Yard Goat through his first seven ballgames. Hartford’s starter for today’s contest is TBD at the time of writing this piece.
When you deploy six different pitchers in a ballgame and five of them give up two or more runs, you’re going to have a bad day. When you also manage to go 3-for-16 with runners in scoring position, your day is going to be extra bad. And Spokane did, losing by ten runs and dropping to 55-51 on the season. Braiden Ward (2-for-4, BB, RBI, R, SB), Julio Carreras (2-for-3, RBI, 2 SB) and Eddy Díaz (3-for-4, 2 2B, RBI, R) combined for seven of Spokane’s nine hits in the loss. Joe Rock (7-6, 3.58 ERA) will take the ball today trying to turn things around.
In his first start as a Grizzlie, youngster Jordy Vargas had one bad frame sandwiched in between three good ones. This time, he had no such hiccups. The 18-year-old right-hander was on his game, pitching five brilliant shutout innings in which he allowed just one hit and a walk, and struck out eight Visalia batters to pick up his first win in full-season A-ball.
The win came in large part thanks to his dominance, but also thanks to a well-rounded performance from the lineup, which scored six runs on six hits and seven walks. Juan Guerrero went 2-for-4 with a double, a walk, two stolen bases and three runs scored, Benny Montgomery had a pair of knocks, and Yanquiel Fernández drove in RBIs number 90 and 91 (which lead the California League) with a two-run homer in the 6th, his 17th longball of the season. Fresno is 64-45 and will look to keep their momentum rolling with top prospect Jaden Hill making his first start in full-season ball after seven appearances in the Arizona Complex League, in his first season back from Tommy John surgery.
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