Editor’s note: Trevor is joining VEB from Gaslamp Ball, the Padres SB Nation site. We are excited to have him! - JC
During the 2018 season, I made a trip up to Appleton, Wisconsin for a vacation. While I was there, it was only natural that I make it to a Timber Rattlers game, low and behold they were playing the Peoria Chiefs on that day. As the game goes on normal baseball things are happening, then there’s a crack of a bat that stands out. This was the first time I saw the 6’3” 200-plus pound presence of Elehuris Montero. This is the glimpse I had of the St. Louis Cardinals corner infield prospect.
His name had come across in one way or another, but seeing him is totally different. Mind you, the 2018 version I saw is miles behind where the current version of Montero is. Just don’t look at the numbers to tell you that.
Montero is a native of the Dominican Republic. The Cardinals signed him for $300,000 back in 2014 and he has really come into his own recently. That year I saw him, 2018, was the year people started to learn his name. He was named the Midwest League MVP, despite a promotion that thrust him out of the league for the final month of the season. That set the scene for 2019, and what might appear as a let down.
It’s not. Not even close.
Injuries told the story of 2019 for Montero. He found himself sidelined twice by two different wrist injuries. He still hit seven homers in 59 games, but slashed just .188/.235/.317. The Cardinals decided to make up for lost time by putting Montero in the prestigious Arizona Fall League, where the stats didn’t look much better.
Despite that, there is a lot to like with Montero. For starters the version I saw in 2018, and even into 2019, didn’t possess the best swing mechanics. His top and bottom half were not even close to in sync. According to Matt Thompson of Prospects Live, Montero’s swing was a lot better in the AFL. That improvement alone should go a long way in improving the numbers from 2019. As will health.
One thing of note that Thompson writes in his Montero blurb is that he has a long swing, which is true. However, his hand-eye coordination and bat speed allow him to make up for that at the moment. I dug into the MiLB TV 2019 archives in preparation to write this and it’s worth noting that his most memorable homerun I saw came on a fastball that looked way too inside to barrel up. He got there.
There is no denying that Montero is a big dude and can hit the ball. In the at bats that I’ve seen, most of his power is to the pull side, but he can spray the ball around the park to be productive. That has been the trend throughout his career, as seen on his spray chart thanks to Baseball Savant.
All this is to say that Montero does have a good hit tool. It might not show through as much because he is aggressive, so that means his strikeout rate will probably always be around 20 percent or higher. In his Midwest League MVP campaign he struck out a tick under that mark, but his walk rate was at 7.8 percent.
He is an ultra-talented hitter who shows some pop. The offensive questions heading into the 2020 season will certainly be there, though I’m not buying into any concerns just yet.
One of the big questions is where will Montero land defensively. He’s got a rocket for a right arm that helps from the position, but it somewhat limited in his movements. Because of that it’s hard to see him sticking there long term, but he could make it work. Just don’t expect any Gold Gloves, unless something changes in a hurry.
It is worth noting that the Cardinals added Montero to the 40-man to protect him from the Rule 5 Draft. There is no reason for him not to start in Double A again. If I were in charge of this, he would stay in Springfield for at least half the season unless he’s on some ungodly hot streak to start 2020, then I would re-evaluate.
The question is not going to be about his ability, because that is there. The question is health. Having Montero healthy and getting the reps against Double A pitchers will go a long way, there is no need to rush him.
The version of Elehuris Montero I saw in 2018 is pretty far behind the one I would see suiting up now. And that is a good thing. The two halves of his swing that worked independently are now turning into one. His long swing might become an issue, but frankly the pace Montero is on is good. He’s moved pretty quickly, I think by design, but this is the time when he needs to slow down and be ready. His hitting ability means he could have a nice career ahead of him, rushing that will do him no good.
After all these words and numbers, my thoughts on Montero now remain as they were on that summer evening in Appleton, Wisconsin. This guy is going to be good.