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BYB 2021 Tigers prospects #25: Keider Montero could ride his breaking ball to a starting role in time

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The young right-hander showed off improved control and an athletic delivery to break out of rookie ball in 2019.

Keider Montero - Instructional League 2020
Terri Nummer

Preseason evaluations of the Detroit Tigers’ farm system recently have focused on two points; the strength at the top of the system, and the weakness in the middle. A key part of the second issue is the lack of interesting starting pitching prospects at the A-ball levels. Keider Montero may have something to say about that impression in 2021.

He hasn’t really had a chance to show off what he can do, as the 2020 season wiped out Montero’s full season debut. However, the fastball velocity, strike throwing, athletic delivery, and a pretty fearsome breaking ball are a nice package to build from. He was just turning 19 years old when he last played live games. Now heading into his age-21 campaign, we should have a better sense of his potential by season’s end.

Background

Montero hails from Valencia, in north central Venezuela. The Tigers signed him as an international free agent back in 2016, but he wasn’t one of their more notable expenditures. However, by 2018, he was getting a bit of notice in his second stint in the Dominican Summer League, and the next season developed into a breakout for him.

Montero came stateside in 2019 and pitched well in Gulf Coast League action before really putting things together over his final five starts with the Connecticut Tigers of the New York-Penn League, a short season A-ball level which has been eliminated heading into 2021. In several starts he was particularly impressive, using the whole strike zone and mixing in his full repertoire with good control for his age. It was just a glimpse of his potential, and the lack of information over the past year and a half makes it hard to guess how he’s progressed in the interim, but the few notes we heard during the Tigers fall instructional league camp in 2020 remained very positive.

Strengths

Montero has quite a few attributes going for him. He was comfortably sitting 92-94 mph when we saw him last in 2019 with controlled effort and a strong lower half, and has topped out at 96 mph. He didn’t have too much physical projection remaining at that point, so it will be interesting to see how he looks and how the fastball is coming out this season. It’s an athletic delivery, and Montero’s control took a big step forward in 2019, lending credence to the idea that he can maintain his velocity deep in games and take the steps required with his command to ultimately develop into a major league starting pitcher.

The twoseamer has nice run, and he’ll mix fastball types and pitch to all parts of the zone. His curveball has quite a bit of tilt, and checks in with a spin rate around 3000 rpms, which is elite. He backs that up with a developing changeup that has some fading action, and sells fairly well due to Montero’s smooth arm action and good extension. That pitch could still use a little more depth and velocity separation from the fastball.

Overall, there’s already a lot to like in Montero’s game. He’s just a bit too young to make bold predictions about until we finally see him in full season ball this year. His strike throwing improved substantially in 2019, and there were a couple of particularly impressive stretches of good command in his time at Connecticut. In those outings, he was really working all parts of the zone and mixing in a steady diet of tough breaking balls. He punched out 28.6 percent of the hitters he faced in those five starts, walked just 5.5 percent, got a lot of weak contact, and didn’t allow many hard hit balls in the air. Hopefully he can carry that success forward and make a run into the upper minors this season.

Weaknesses

The minor knock on Montero is that he doesn’t have a prototypical starter’s frame. At six-one, he’s well built but not a rangy, power pitcher with plenty of physical projection left. As a result there are some question marks about his durability and sustainable velocity as a starting pitcher. His smooth action on the mound says these concerns may be overblown but only time will tell if he can hold in his upper velocity band and still continue to develop his fastball command.

Last we saw him in 2019, Montero had a fringe average fastball, a breaking ball with tons of potential, and a solid changeup. If the fastball powers up a bit more, he’ll be a viable starting pitching prospect to watch. If not, the Tigers may eventually choose to let him air it out in relief and lean on the curveball. On that track he might move rather quickly. For now though, there are strong enough starter traits here to stay the course. Remember, he was still just 19 when he last saw regular action. We should have a better idea how he may fit into the Tigers’ future plans by year’s end.

Montero did attend the Tigers instructional camp back in October. His velocity was up a tick according to the video clip linked below, but otherwise there wasn’t much in the way of reporting from camp. We’ll see if Montero can hold his velocity in that 93-95 mph band going forward.

Projected 2021 team: Advanced-A West Michigan Whitecaps

Had the 2020 baseball season gone according to plan, Montero probably would have spent most of the year with the West Michigan Whitecaps. Because the Class-A level is now Lakeland, it’s possible the Tigers will start him there at the organization’s developmental homebase to get back in the swing of things. Still, he should be ready to take on college hitters at this point, and it’s time he got into the swing of playing a pro schedule far from home. Expect him in Grand Rapids before long.