5. Benny Montgomery (612 points, 24 ballots)
Benny Montgomery’s got pedigree (he was the eighth-overall pick in the 2021 draft) and scouting evaluations that grade him with three plus tools (run, arm, field) with above-average power. No wonder the Rockies signed him for a slightly under-slot $5 million bonus. The 6’4”, 200-pound Pennsylvania prep gave scouts pause at draft time with a big hitch in his swing that the Rockies are trying to clean up, but the power potential is there along with excellent athleticism that should keep Montgomery in center field. He had a brief ACL cameo in 2021, where he had a 116 wRC+ in 52 PA.
The 20-year-old was assigned to Low-A Fresno in 2022, where he was 2.1 years younger than average, after (as Thomas Harding of MLB.com reports) an off-season that saw him work to overhaul his swing. Unfortunately, it wasn’t a fully-healthy campaign for Montgomery, who was sidelined for a few weeks in late April/mid-May with a quadriceps injury. Just two days after returning, Montgomery went back on the IL with an undisclosed injury that kept him out of action another month. After a week-long rehab stint in the ACL, Montgomery returned to Fresno in early July and got improved results.
Baseball Prospectus author Eli Walsh wrote up Montgomery shortly after his return from the IL and foreshadowed a successful run to close out the year:
Montgomery knocked a pair of singles without much authority, but what was notable was that he looked noticeably quieter at the plate [than he did in April 2022]. The hands are still noisy during his load, but they don’t flutter quite as much as they did. His stance has a bit less pre-pitch movement in his lower half, and he holds the bat at a flatter angle, nearly perpendicular to his body. All of these changes do help get his body in a better position to load and fire toward the ball. Nonetheless, he often doesn’t get his busy hands or big leg kick in motion early enough, and his upper and lower half were out of sync at times as he’d get his front foot down while his hips and hands were chasing to catch up.
Montgomery has the bat speed to compensate for some of these mechanical and timing issues, but there’s still a massive hole on the inner half that any pitcher with average command of an average fastball would exploit at higher levels. He’ll also cheat on certain pitches as a consequence, leaving him vulnerable to breaking balls low and away; he took multiple broken-down swings Friday at breaking pitches that were in the dirt or off the plate away. All he can do for now is fight off inside heaters, leading to a lot of jam jobs into right field.
None of this is irreparable: he’s played in just 18 games above the complex, doesn’t turn 20 until September, and has flashed some of the power potential that was part of what made the Rockies take him eighth overall. The glove and speed also remain just as good as advertised, and the Rockies remain much better at developing bats than arms. That said, he’ll need some good fortune in health and the requisite reps to iron out the wrinkles going forward.
In his injury-plagued first half, Montgomery hit .267/.313/.433 with Fresno. From his return in July on, Montgomery had a .786 OPS in July, .907 OPS in August, and a 1.010 OPS in September. In total, Montgomery made 264 plate appearances for Fresno and hit .313/.394/.502 (132 wRC+) with six homers, three triples, and 20 doubles along with nine steals in 10 attempts. The 27% K rate (vs. 8% BB) is worrisome of course, but it’s cool to see Montgomery absolutely mashing lefty pitching (1.197 OPS) in about 25% of his PA.
Here’s some video of Montgomery hitting in late 2021 courtesy of Fangraphs:
There’s not a lot of loud contact there, but if you want highlights from Montgomery’s 2022 action, you can watch this video instead.
Keith Law of the Athletic had ranked Montgomery lower than the others at 28th in his pre-draft rankings in 2021 but he ranked Montgomery 3rd in the system and 79th overall earlier this month:
[Montgomery is] an outstanding athlete and a 70 runner who projects to be a plus defender in center and should add value on the bases, although he only attempted 10 steals last year due to the quad issue (and was successful on nine of them). He’s had a hitch in his swing since high school, although it looked somewhat reduced in 2022, still showing some extraneous movement but with the hand acceleration to overcome it. He destroyed left-handed pitching last year and was just above average against righties, which you’d expect from a right-handed hitter with that kind of swing. It’s star-level upside with plus raw power and the speed/defense, although he will have to cut down on the swing and miss, likely by working with coaches to minimize that hand movement.
Montgomery was the No. 8 overall pick in the 2021 draft with the sales pitch being that he’s a 6-4 center fielder with plus speed, a plus glove in center field, plus power potential and feel for contact despite a funky swing. His pitch selection is also lacking, but he could be in for a breakout if it improves.
Baseball Prospectus listed Montgomery 5th in the org as a 55 OFP player in November:
The top-line performance in the Cal League was solid considering [Montgomery] played the entire season as a 19-year-old, and he has toned down some of the extraneous motions in his swing—which was incredibly divisive when he was an amateur. It’s not exactly quiet though, featuring a leg kick and a dippy little hitch in the hand path. Montgomery can hit the ball hard when he squares it up given his plus bat speed, but his trigger can lack fluidity and the quality of contact suffers for it. He hits the ball on the ground more often than not, and you can beat him inside with good fastballs, or leave him poking harmlessly at offspeed away. The speed and defense remain pristine despite the injuries, and if he can tap into some of his ample raw power, there’s an above-average regular lurking the profile. But until he proves that herky-jerky swing can square better stuff, there’s significant risk he’s merely a bench outfielder.
I’m a soft touch for an unconventional stroke, but Montgomery doesn’t consistently make his work yet.
In the report accompanying the above video, Fangraphs ranks Montgomery 7th in the system as a 45 FV player:
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.
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 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.
Montgomery’s strong finish to 2022 was quite encouraging and likely secures him a spot in High-A to begin 2023. He’s got some development in front of him, but Montgomery possesses a star-level ceiling who the Rockies are hoping will be their center fielder for several years. The scouting reports about his hit tool have me concerned and the 2022 injuries haven’t helped getting him more professional reps, but taking risks on this type of player is exactly what I want the Rockies to do. I ranked Montgomery fifth on my list as a 50 FV player, acknowledging both his star potential and the risk relating both from the long path he has to MLB generally and his swing change needs specifically.