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System Sundays: Mark Montgomery and Juan Yepez

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They’re the original odd couple!

MLB: Spring Training-Miami Marlins at St. Louis Cardinals
Goodnight, sweet prince. And thanks for that one Kershaw homer.
Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

I’m sure most of you were expecting to hear from me regarding the Luis Robert situation this morning, but I don’t really have all that much to say about it, honestly. Just another missed opportunity that I don’t think the organisation can afford. Whether the Cards’ offer simply wasn’t as good as the White Sox’s, or if Robert preferred to go to the club that already has Yoan Moncada on the way as a potential cornerstone player of Cuban descent, the end result is the same. The Cards had a chance to add a young, dynamic talent who is easily a top 50 prospect right out of the gate, and probably a top 25, and they didn’t.

We can disagree on how and where the Cardinals should spend their money, obviously, but I think we should all be able to mostly agree that the fact payroll takes up so much smaller a percentage of revenues now than, say, ten years ago is less than ideal. I admire the Redbird front office for the most part for the kind of disciplined, intelligent approach they take to the game, and the long-term results speak for themselves. However, it’s hard not to see this franchise as, at the very least, in a transitional period, even if you don’t subscribe to the notion they’re on a definite downward trajectory.

In the end, I pay my cable bill and buy tickets and go to games and write about this shit because I like baseball. I do not do any of those things because I enjoy seeing math done really accurately. So sure, WAR/$ leaderboards are nice indications that things are being done intelligently. They don’t make me want to go to the ballgame.

Seeing horrifically stupid baserunners make the first out of an inning at third base doesn’t make me want to go to the ballgame either, for the record. Do the Cardinals just have a bunch of dumb players? I mean, seriously. Why does this team do so many stupid things?


Anyhow, while I’m not going to go into depth about Robert, I did want to talk about some minor league stuff today, and was planning on focusing on Mark Montgomery, a reliever in the Cards’ system who has been very good this season and seems like a pretty safe bet to show up in the big leagues at some point this year.

However, late yesterday afternoon, the Cardinals finally made a move regarding Matt Adams, sending the former starting first baseman to the Atlanta Braves in exchange for a first base prospect by the name of Juan Yepez, and suddenly I had a double workload, and two players who are completely unrelated to talk about.

But that’s okay; ‘completely unrelated’ is my middle name. I mean, it’s not literally; my parents weren’t monsters. But you know what I’m saying.

So anyhow, let’s first get to a little info on Juan Yepez. First, a disclaimer that I don’t know players from other farm systems nearly as well as I do the Cards’, and thus am working off much less considered observation. I reserve the right to change my mind down the road.

However, I was aware of Yepez beforehand, and even liked him a little, so in this case I lucked out in terms of the Cards getting someone about whom I had already formulated a least a partial opinion.

And that opinion, particularly in the context of Matt Adams, who really didn’t fit this roster basically at all — or at least was a really poor fit and not offering much in the way of real value — is that the Cardinals did a really nice job pulling a piece with some intriguing potential.

Yepez is nineteen years old, and will be for the whole season. He’s Venezuelan, which is really neither here nor there, and is playing his third season in the minor leagues currently. Two years ago, he crushed the ball in the Appalachian League, posting a .370 BABIP as a seventeen year old. Now, you may be thinking a high BABIP is a weird thing to be calling out as a positive, considering it’s a stat we usually look at very early in the process of trying to decide why a given result is liable to go the regression route. However, there’s a funny thing about that, which is that, especially in the low minors, a high BABIP is actually a pretty decent indication of future success. Not always, obviously, but at lower levels it’s much more possible for a difference in talent to manifest itself as a high BABIP, rather than being a red flag for regression the way it usually is in the bigs. When everyone is the best in the world, certain numbers only vary so much. When the variance is greater, it’s a little less predictable.

Specifically, I saw Yepez play a little against Johnson City, and was impressed by how consistently hard he hit the ball, even to the opposite field. He’s got a bit of a Trevor Story in his swing, and the bat stays in the zone a long time. At the time it didn’t seem like he had a ton of loft in his swing, and I will say I haven’t seen enough of him since that time to know if he’s changed the swing plane much, so I assume that’s probably still a bit of a question.

As for position, the Braves tried Yepez at third base and first both, and I think he probably profiles at first long term. Obviously, that puts a high degree of pressure on the bat if he can only play that most lowly of positions, but I think that’s going to be the case.

He missed quite a bit of time last year with an oblique injury, which cost him some development time, but not enough to be a long term concern for me. What’s more of a concern is how little patience he’s shown at the plate since moving up to full-season ball. He has very good power potential, so perhaps down the road pitchers will be forced to treat him carefully, but he’s an aggressive hitter with enough swing and miss to his game that it worries me a bit.

Overall, this is a pure bet on the bat of Yepez, and I mostly like the bet. There’s a lot of development that needs to happen, but if you want a minor leaguer with a knack for loud contact, he’s a pretty good start. And for a guy like Adams, who really wasn’t contributing to the Cards’ current roster (and that’s not a shot at Big City; just the reality of how this roster is constructed and his personal limitations), I like this bet. The Cardinals could have gone for a relief fix or a less-intriguing lottery ticket, but they kicked in some cash to the Braves and pulled a player I’m at least a little optimistic about.

via minorleaguebaseball:

As for Mark Montgomery, the other minor leaguer I wanted to talk about today, he’s maybe one of the most interesting players in the whole of the Cards’ minor leagues right now, largely because of how the major league bullpen is shaping up, and the opportunities that are almost certainly going to be there all year.

You may or may not have heard of Montgomery; most prospect mavens are probably pretty familiar with him, specifically the Yankee version that was supposed to take over from David Robertson a few years back. At the time, Montgomery was a hard throwing righthander with an absolutely devastating slider he could reshape pretty much at will, from near-curve to near-cutter, and was pretty much untouchable regardless.

Well, between then and now, Montgomery has had some arm troubles, lost a bunch of velocity, gained some of it back, and pretty much through it all pulled two constants along behind him. One, the control has never been anything better than shaky, and two, the slider has always remained untouchable.

That fireballing 2012 version of Montgomery is gone forever; when he first reached Double A he would top out at 98, but those days are over. Nowadays he sits about 91, and it’s a four-seamer, so we’re not talking about a ton of sink or run, either. All the same, he’s still got that unbelievable slider, he still manipulates it pretty much at will, and even at 91 with the fastball he’s striking out 32.3% of the hitters he’s seen this year in Triple A.

What is new, and really intriguing, about Montgomery’s performance this year is the fact he seems, at age 26, to have taken a real step forward with his command. Throughout his Yankee tenure, Montgomery routinely walked between 10-14% of the hitters he faced. This season, that number is a stunning 3.3%. If you’re doing the math at home, that’s nearly a 10:1 strikeout to walk ratio.

He was a victim of a roster crunch at the end of spring training with the Yankees, and ended up released, which may very well have worked out brilliantly for the Cardinals. I don’t know if a change in coaching has unlocked something for Montgomery, or if he was simply on the verge of a breakthrough when his clock ran out in the Yankee system, but either way he’s looking more and more like a potential shot in the arm for a Redbird bullpen that could use one, badly.

At this point, with his lower velocity, the best comp I can think of for Montgomery might be something like Luke Gregerson, the former Cardinal relief prospect dealt to San Diego in the Khalil Greene trade who became one of the best setup men in the game for several years, and has closed quite capably here and there, including for Team USA in the World Baseball Classic this spring.

As things stand now, the Cardinals have a righty in Jonathan Broxton they really can’t trust with anything resembling an important situation, and a lefty in Kevin Siegrist who looked like he was turning it around with a new curveball but has still been extremely shaky this year. Tuivailala has looked better this season, but could still use a little more polish. There are innings, important innings, that need to be thrown.

There’s an interesting wrinkle in terms of Montgomery, as well; he’s appeared in thirteen games this season for Memphis, but has actually thrown 22 innings. Meaning, of course, that he’s averaging well over one inning per outing, as it were, and even went a full three innings earlier this month. Looking at his game log, it’s mostly been two inning stints, with a couple of short one- or two-out fireman jobs scattered in.

What I mean is this: Mark Montgomery has, very interestingly, been throwing those multi-inning Andrew Miller games that everyone keeps clamouring for much of the season for Memphis. Now, what that means in terms of what the Cards might think of him at the big league level is tough to say. However, you have a 26 year old reliever with one plus-plus pitch, striking out better than 30% of the batters he’s faced, posting a strikeout to walk ratio of almost 10:1, and primarily working five and six out gigs at Triple A.

In other words, the Cardinals have a really, really intriguing potential weapon sitting in Memphis right now, just waiting for an opportunity. How soon that opportunity could be coming is anyone’s guess, but considering there are now two open slots on the 40 man roster following the Adams trade — and neither of those spots is being reserved for a new Cuban signing, by the way — it would seem to me like we have a confluence of events.

Remember Josh Kinney? The slider artist with the funky delivery who made such a positive impact on the Cardinal bullpen way back in 2006 after being called up? He had a great story, as a former indy leaguer who was thinking of accepting a job as a hiking guide before getting signed by the Redbirds, and ended up throwing big time innings against both the Padres and Mets in the ‘06 postseason. Along with Tyler Johnson taking over as the lefty weapon to end all lefty weapons and Adam Wainwright inheriting the closer role from the collapsing Jason Isringhausen, Kinney had a huge role in reshaping what had been an horrific relief corps that year, and that reshaped relief corps was a big part of the Cards’ stunning postseason run.

I’m not saying Mark Montgomery is Josh Kinney, set to come up and go on that sort of run. But he is an extremely talented former top prospect who has seemingly made a real jump this year with the Cardinals, and in a position that if the Redbirds wanted to try and reshape this particular bullpen, he would seem to be one of the primary weapons they might try to deploy.

via 2080 Baseball: