It doesn’t seem that long ago that I was talking about how bright the future of the Kansas City Royals rotation looked with the potential emergence of two young left handed pitchers. When I look back, I realized it was January of 2012 and, for the record, the two pitchers I was referring to were current Royals LHP Danny Duffy and Seattle Mariners LHP Mike Montgomery. Duffy was drafted in the third round of the 2007 draft and Montgomery was taken in the first round of the 2008 draft, both by the Royals. Both pitchers were 18 when they made their professional debuts. In spite of the high expectations, both pitchers have taken different paths to get where they are right now.
Duffy seemed to have more success throughout his minor league career. By his third professional season, he was having success in Double-A, pitching for Northwest Arkansas in the Texas League. After making eight starts for Triple-A Omaha in 2011, Duffy was called up to the big show at the age of 22. He got roughed up a bit, pitching to a 5.63 ERA in 20 starts. His struggles were attributed to never having pitched as many innings at any level before. As 2012 was set to start, Duffy was expected to be a main part of the team’s rotation.
Duffy’s season ended on May 13 after he was taken out of the game after 2/3 of an inning. He underwent Tommy John surgery and would not pitch in the major leagues again until August 7, 2013. Duffy’s elbow responded well to the operation, and in his five 2013 starts, he pitched to a 1.85 ERA. The following season became what the Royals were expecting in 2012. Duffy went 9-12, 2.53 in 31 games (25 starts) while his innings were being monitored. He also appeared in three postseason games, two of them in the World Series against the San Francisco Giants.
Montgomery had the same start to his professional career as Duffy did. The year he was drafted, he was lights out in the Gulf Coast League. The next season (2009), he seemed to have no trouble in low- or high-A ball. Similar to Duffy’s path, Montgomery reached Double-A in his third professional season. Also, like Duffy, Montgomery was put on the roster of Triple-A Omaha to start the 2011 season. That Omaha pitching staff featured the likes of Greg Holland, Kelvin Herrera and fellow future MLB pitchers Vin Mazzaro, Jesse Chavez, Jeremy Jeffress, and Sean O’Sullivan.
Montgomery pitched a career high 150 innings that season, all for Omaha. He had similar struggles at this level to what Duffy had in the majors. Mike was 5-11, 5.32 in 28 games, 27 starts. In spite of the struggles, it seemed Montgomery would get a chance to pitch in the big leagues in 2012. That, of course, did not happen as Montgomery continued to struggle while with Omaha. So much so, that he was sent down to Double-A Northwest Arkansas, where he pitched even worse. He finished 2012 with a 5-12, 6.07 splitting time straight down the middle between Triple-A and Double-A.
A third season in Triple-A was on the horizon for Montgomery, but his place as a top prospect had evaporated. Baseball America had rated Montgomery 39th on the top 100 prospects headed into the 2010 season, 19th going into 2011 and 23rd going into 2012. Montgomery was more touted as a big league prospect than Duffy, even though he had already made his MLB debut. Baseball America did not feel the same going into 2013, leaving him off the top 100 list. Perhaps with the prospect tag falling off the Montgomery suit, the Royals had to evaluate their future with the former first-round pick.
Maybe it was that alone that interested the Tampa Bay Rays, who traded for Montgomery as part of the Wil Myers/James Shields trade. The Rays were more interested in Myers and Jake Odorizzi, but Montgomery was included along with 3B Patrick Leonard to get the Royals Shields and Wade Davis. Montgomery has spent the past two seasons pitching mostly in Triple-A for the Durham Bulls, working on his change up.
This past off season, the Rays dealt Montgomery to the Mariners for RHP Erasmo Ramirez, with the thinking behind the deal being Ramirez can join the MLB rotation immediately. Montgomery was still considered a project, in spite of having his best season in Triple-A (10-5, 4.25, 25 starts) in 2014. Montgomery was called up in 2015 to replace the injured James Paxton and pitched well enough to win his first MLB start against the New York Yankees. A blown save eliminated his chance at his first win. Most baseball fans know who Mike Montgomery is now, as he has thrown two consecutive complete game shutouts for the Mariners. He is the first Mariners pitcher since Freddy Garcia in 2001 to accomplish the feat.
Many may think his accomplishment is just a rare feat; Montgomery’s 15 minutes of fame. I think of it as deeper than that. Montgomery has a change up that he throws 10 mph slower than his fastball. And it is impossible to see any difference in his arm motion when he throws either pitch. I think he is in the big leagues to stay. Perhaps Tom Glavine is too unfair of a comparison, but I think it is safe to say this could be one of Mariners GM Jack Zduriencik’s biggest steals.