TAMPA, Fla. – At this time last year, Mark Montgomery was one of the most heralded prospects in camp for the New York Yankees, having dominated the Eastern League in 2012 with a slider that some scouts indicated was the best in the minor leagues. After drawing comparisons to David Robertson for his dominant numbers and high strikeout rate, it was thought that Montgomery had a chance to crack the big league bullpen at some point during the season.
Instead, Montgomery was sent to Triple-A, where he was limited to just 40 innings pitched while needing multiple trips to the disabled list as he dealt with shoulder soreness. The numbers were not that bad – the right-hander posted a respectable 3.38 ERA and had 49 strikeouts – but they paled in comparison to the 1.54 ERA and 13.8 strikeouts-per-nine he posted the year before.
Struggling for the first time in the professional ranks, Montgomery says he learned that you need to be a smart pitcher more so than an overpowering one at the upper levels of baseball.
“I think I grew up a lot last year, learning that baseball’s not going to be just handed over,” Montgomery said. “You’re not going to be successful 100 percent of the time. I’d done fairly well throughout the minors, and I didn’t have bad numbers in Scranton, but it wasn’t numbers that I was accustomed to. I think it taught me that you’ve got to learn to pitch, you’re not going to blow everything by people. I’m grateful, and I’ve definitely grown up and I think I’ve definitely become a smarter pitcher.”
When Montgomery’s velocity was diminished early in the season, the warning bells started ringing. By the second month of the season, the relief pitcher’s shoulder began to hurt, and he was diagnosed with bursitis in his pitching shoulder. However, with the big leagues just a phone call away, Montgomery tried to pitch through the pain until the Yankees shut him down. In retrospect, Montgomery admits that it was the right move.
“If I went up and wasn’t (fully healthy), I’d be in a lot worse position now than I am,” Montgomery told reporters on Saturday. “Going up there and not pitching well would have been way worse.”
After spending his offseason in Tampa working out to improve flexibility, Montgomery feels that the injury is behind him as he comes in looking to compete for a bullpen spot with the Yankees.
“I still come in with the same expectations, that I’m here to try to make a spot and here to pitch well,” Montgomery said. “But I think it’s a much better feeling knowing that I’m healthy and all that’s behind me and I can just move forward.”
Even with the injury-riddled season, Montgomery is still the top relief pitching prospect in the organization. If the shoulder injury is behind him like he believes, the 23-year-old could be a dark horse candidate for a spot in a largely unsettled big league bullpen.