The Peoria Chiefs have one of the three best records in the Midwest League, sitting atop the western division’s overall standings after 93 games. From former first-round pick Nick Plummer to breakout reliever Bryan Dobzanski, the Chiefs roster is a unique blend of organizational depth and potential. Third baseman Elehuris Montero and right-handed pitcher Johan Oviedo stand out as the team’s most projectable pieces.
After drafting high school third baseman Nolan Gorman and meeting the $300k individual player limit to sign Cuban third baseman Malcom Nunez, the Cardinals quickly accumulated depth at the hot corner. Montero is further along in the Cardinals system, but remains the lesser-know name with a similar skillset: exceptional blend of bat-to-ball and power with defensive question marks.
Fangraphs considered him “thick” in their tiering of the Cardinals system last November. Listed at 6-foot-3, 195 pounds, Montero does appear physically mature for his age, which might allow him to tap into his raw power. He stands with 11 home runs through 83 games, a slight upward tick in his pace from Rookie Ball in 2017, and boasts an average north of .300, one of only ten players in the Midwest League above the mark.
Saturday night was my second look at Montero in just over a month. Against a Fort Wayne Tin Caps team (San Diego Padres affiliate) loaded with international talent, Montero made two of the hardest pieces of contact. Neither got out of the park or even fell for hits, but exposure to the righty quickly displays his exceptional ability to barrel balls.
Montero’s batted ball distribution is encouraging as well. His 38 percent ground-ball rate would fall well into the bottom half of MLB, with his all-fields spray accentuated by a tendency for the most productive kind of contact on average — line drives.
Some might see the activity in Montero’s hands as unnecessary, but I fall into the channel of belief that success provides room for leniency in mechanics, especially at such a young age. Adjustment might come, but his toe tap is clean, keeping his weight distributed well enough where delaying the quieting of his hands might be possible developmentally. In an ideal world, Montero’s pitch recognition will improve as he moves through the Cardinals farm system and his bat speed will shine at higher levels, dropping the necessity for much upper-body adjustment.
My first looks at Montero came in the Midwest League All-Star Game, which I highlighted here.
Success hasn’t eluded Montero in full-season ball. Based on the advanced nature of his hit tool at such a young age, it shouldn’t be hard to find at higher levels either.
Oviedo is a different animal. He stands 6-foot-6, 210 pounds with his stature quickly apparent by standing near him during his pregame bullpen. The biggest concern emerging over the last year is the trend of his velocity, falling from the mid 90s to low 90s by the end of 2017. He sat 89-92 mph for me on Saturday (stadium gun), with decent plane on the pitch when elevated, and sink low in the zone, but it’s tough to expect the world when the median fastball velocity for starting pitchers is above 93 mph in 2018 at the major league level and there wasn’t much swing in miss embedded within the pitch.
The last few frames within the tweet above provide looks at Oviedo’s curveball. This was the offering he featured most Saturday, ranging from the low 70s to low 80s, flashing average at times, but lacking consistency. The shape of the pitch was encouraging, generated some swing and miss, and carved up hitters with minimal reps against better breaking stuff. Oviedo also featured a harder breaking ball that looked like a slider with glove-side run. I didn’t see much, if any, use of a changeup as I moved around the diamond to capture different angles of Oviedo and various Chiefs hitters.
Oviedo has the frame and feel to succeed at higher levels. His mechanics don’t pose substantial concern for health, and while I think he does repeat the larger aspects of his delivery well, small variations from the stretch and on his follow through suggest some needed polish. This is echoed in his walk rate spike up to 16 percent from a manageable 9 percent last season. In contrast to Montero, Oviedo has struggled, but I wouldn’t say at the age of 20 all is lost in the slightest. Positives remain to encourage even the most pessimistic of analysts on the righty prospect.