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System Sundays: Scouting Elehuris Montero

Taking a closer look at one of the real breakout stars in the system this year.

St Louis Cardinals v Arizona Diamondbacks Photo by Jennifer Stewart/Getty Images

This scouting report is overdue, ladies and gentlemen. Not hugely so, I don’t believe; this past offseason, Elehuris Montero was fairly close to making my top prospect list, but ultimately I went with a couple other players I had better feel for at the time. Considering the kind of season Montero has had, it’s pretty clear I should have written him up instead of someone else, but it’s always tough to really evaluate a player all the way down in the complex leagues. If I’m ever going to put a player in the Gulf Coast League (or lower), on the big list, there’s probably going to have to be some fairly strong extenuating circumstances.

That being said, I should have gotten around to a proper writeup of Montero earlier this spring, once it became clear he’s a Guy, rather than just a guy. I’m rectifying that now.

Elehuris Montero, 3B

6’3”, 195 lbs

Bats/Throws: Right/Right

DOB: 17 August 1998

Relevant 2018 Stats: 315 PA, .324/.381/.516, 10 HR, 7.3% BB, 21.3% K, 151 wRC+, .393 BABIP (Peoria)

So, what’s so great about this guy?

Well, simply put, Elehuris Montero can really hit. Solid-average contact skills, easy natural power, and a fairly advanced approach at the plate all combine to give him one of the higher offensive ceilings of any hitting prospect in the Cardinals’ system, and the possibility of a much more well-rounded hitting profile than, say, a Tyler O’Neill sitting much closer to the top of the system.

Actually, first, let’s tackle the questionable stuff about Montero’s game, where I have more doubts to express. Then we can move on to the more fun side of things. The biggest question for Montero is probably always going to be a defensive home. Stop me if you’ve heard this one before in the Cards’ system, but Elehuris Montero’s best position in the field is still hitter, in that Allen Craig-y sort of way I’m sure we all remember. Even at nineteen, he’s a well-developed kid physically, but there’s some concern he could end up less well-developed and more just big down the road, and maybe the athleticism doesn’t hold up for third base.

On the plus side, his arm is plenty strong enough to play third base, it looks like, and from what I’ve been able to see of him this year at Peoria he makes mostly accurate throws in addition to the strength. He’s not the most mobile player over at the hot corner, but he mostly catches what he gets to, and doesn’t seem overly mistake-prone. Now, if that sounds like I’m damning with faint praise, I admit there’s some of that going on here, as Montero really isn’t the most natural or athletic fielder, but he definitely doesn’t look to me like a disaster at third. Maybe the glove never gets beyond a 45, which is probably the median outcome for him defensively, I think. If that’s the case, I think he still could end up a very solid, very productive player if the bat advances like I believe it could. But if you’re looking for a reason to be skeptical of Elehuris Montero’s future, the glove is going to be that.

Now let’s move on to the bat, where there’s much less reason for equivocation. This is a tremendously talented hitter, one with a natural feel for barreling up balls that gives him as high a ceiling as nearly any positional prospect in the system right now. It actually is slightly concerning that his strikeout to walk ratio has taken a pretty sizable hit this year, which is his first at a full-season level; in 2017 he ran a K:BB ratio of just about 1:1.5, which is outstanding.

This year his walk rate has fallen from 10.6% to 7.3%, while his strikeout rate has jumped from 15.9% to 21.3%. Now, the jump from the GCL to the Midwest League is a tough one, actually something like three levels, and the fact Montero has done as well as he has against this new, more advanced level of competition is impressive. Still, it will be worth watching the rest of the season to see where Montero’s plate discipline numbers go. In case you’re wondering the direction things seem to be pointing right now, if we go to the game log since, say, the first of June (which is not a significant date, just a nice round-feeling sort of starting point), we get 118 plate appearances since, with an 11% walk rate and a 20.3% strikeout rate. So the contact rate doesn’t look to be appreciably different, but the overall plate approach has gotten much stronger as the season has moved on. Personally, I find that extremely exciting.

The raw power is an easy 60, maybe a 65, while the game power is more 50-55 right now. Montero actually uses the whole field, rather than selling out for pull-side thump, which I think serves him well long-term, and he hits a lot of balls to the biggest part of the field. There’s a tradeoff there, in that there are plenty of doubles (and triples, but this isn’t a runner, remember), from gap to gap, but not quite as many homers as there are to the dead pull portion of the field. Still, the bat speed is a plus, the loft is natural, and Montero isn’t afraid drive the ball to the opposite field, rather than trying to yank everything and make himself more vulnerable to changing speeds or inside/outside pitching strategies.

He hits from a bit of a crouch, though that’s a little less pronounced this year than in 2017, and he’s up on the toe of his front foot as well, which many of you probably remember I’m not usually a fan of. Video from last season seemed to me to show him as a little too tense, a little bound up, and that looks much better this year. He hits with a toe tap mechanism, and he really clears the front side aggressively. A hitter with this aggressive a front shoulder move might appear vulnerable to breaking stuff away, but for the most part it looks to me like Montero stays on the ball very well. It’s also worth pointing out he doesn’t always rotate as aggressively as in the video below, but when he gets a cookie he does swing all-out. Later in a count, though, he’ll stay quieter, more closed, and look to go center-right, rather than swinging for the downs, which plays into that really mature plate approach I’ve mentioned. Oh, and the elevated BABIP? Certainly something to watch, as he might be on the road to regression, but I’ve watched a fair bit of Montero this year, and to my eye he’s just better than most of the competition. One of the ways that can manifest is in a very high BABIP, which at the big-league level is always a red flag, because there just isn’t that kind of spread of talent at the very top, but in the minors can indicate a player just beating up on the competition as much as a player getting overly fortunate on balls in play. I believe Montero is closer to the former.

There is also something in the follow-through on the swing, when he really goes after a pitch, that I really can’t get away from comparing to, well, Oscar Taveras. Not on every swing, but when he opens up on the swing, Montero occasionally looks eerily like another semi-iconic follow-through from the recent past. Just saying, is all.

So what we’re looking at with Montero, as far as scouting grades, is something like a 50-55 hit, 50-55 power, with an outside chance at 60s on both. Now, that’s probably his 90th percentile sort of outcome, but the talent is there. The glove I’ll say is around a 45, ultimately, maybe even a little short of that, and that’s where your downside risk is going to come from. The arm I’ll give a 55, as it’s pretty strong and pretty accurate, and he’s close to an average runner now, probably a 45 down the road. Not a base-clogger, hopefully, but he’s not going to impact a game with his legs in any way, really. If the body gets big and he really slows down, there’s the other real concern with his game, after the lack of a great defensive fit.

All of which gives us a picture of a player whose bat will have to carry his glove and somewhat questionable athleticism, but who should be able to do just that. He’s probably not a 35 homer a year guy; the approach isn’t geared toward homers quite enough for that, I don’t think, but 25-30 is not a bad range for his best seasons. There should also be plenty of doubles, given that he elevates the ball and uses the whole outfield effectively. So maybe a .270 hitter, with an ISO in the .190-.210 range. There could be a touch more power in there than that, even, but that’s a hell of a place to start. The wild card, offensively, will be how well his plate approach holds up as he ascends through the system. If he’s the 3:1 K:BB guy he’s been for the season, that’s one thing. If he’s the 2:1 guy he’s been since the beginning of June, that’s another. And if he can cut the strikeouts even a few percentage points as he grows and learns, to get back closer to where he was in 2017...well then. You could be talking about a legitimate star.

That’s the picture, which leads us to...

If he’s good, it’s going to look like: You know, I actually think that Allen Craig bit I threw out back at the beginning of this column is going to inform my official comp here. Montero will probably have a similarly nomadic existence as Craig, with the club always trying to find the best way to keep his bat in the lineup multiple times a week, as I’m just not sure he’s a great fit defensively anywhere but first base. Which, hey, maybe he ends up a first baseman. But, I also think he should be able to hold up well enough at a couple other spots to serve as a bat-first super utility guy you want to find 450-500 plate appearances for. He also has that same kind of hit-first, all-fields approach Craig brought to the table, with similarly solid power that keeps him from having to sell out in order to drive the ball.

So where does Montero fit in the system right now? He was probably in the 30-35 range for me this past offseason, with a lot of my opinion on him being informed by the fact he hadn’t yet played outside a complex league in spite of the exciting numbers. Well, he’s now made the jump to full-season ball, in a tough league in which to hit, and doesn’t turn 20 until the middle of August. If I said he’s top ten in the system right now, would that sound too aggressive? I haven’t looked back at my rankings yet to revise them — I might do that around the All-Star Break, but I haven’t decided yet for sure — but there have been several graduations, a couple serious falloffs, and Montero has just shown me a whole lot this year that I hadn’t seen from him before. I think he’s top ten. To get any more specific than that I’ll have to wait until taking a closer look at the whole system at some point.

via minorleaguebaseball:

And yes, I chose this video specifically so you could see the follow-through.