The best development in the minor leagues for the Mets this season isn’t Zack Wheeler. It’s Rafael Montero.
To be sure, seeing Wheeler stay largely healthy, more than hold his own at Triple-A, and head to the Mets to debut this Tuesday is excellent. But really, Wheeler had already pitched well at Double-A, the big jump for any pitching prospect, and the Mets largely knew what they had in Wheeler.
Rafael Montero, though: he’s made quite a leap.
Consider that a year ago at this time, Montero was pitching in the Sally League, or low-A ball. He was promoted to St. Lucie, and posted the same kind of numbers: low walks, high Ks, few home runs.
Still, Montero’s jump to Double-A loomed in 2013. A full season to master it wasn’t out of the question, nor was the possibility that he’d struggle.
Montero didn’t do either of these things, though. In 11 starts for Binghamton, he pitched to a 2.43 ERA. His walk rate dropped despite the better competition, to 1.4 per nine. And the strikeout rate went up, to 9.8 per nine.
Montero is off to Las Vegas now, where the numbers don’t tell you much. But he’s in line to see action with the Mets in 2013. Again, in June 2012, he was in the Sally League.
And this is no rush from the Mets. Montero has made each level look silly.
For a team to build with young pitching, it needs arms in bulk. Wheeler is a great prospect, but he is only one, and pitchers are fragile. It isn’t fair to assume Wheeler will come up, pitch well, stay healthy, and be a rotation mainstay for years to come. But it gets easier to project another spot taken behind Harvey with both Wheeler and Montero, the hope being at least one of the two pan out.
The bulk arms are still largely at Single-A for the Mets. But Montero, who looked like he was part of that younger group, has performed well enough to put him into a timeframe more akin to Harvey/Wheeler.
That’s some good news for the Mets. Now if only Montero could hit.