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Is This The End of The Line for Rafael Montero?

On Thursday, Jeurys Familia was activated from his suspension and, in a corresponding move, Rafael Montero was sent down to Triple-A Las Vegas. This came just one day after Montero had taken his second loss of the season in relief, despite only pitching 6.2 innings. Overall, he allowed 16 hits, eight walks, and seven earned runs in just those 6.2 innings pitched. For his MLB career, Montero has now pitched to a 5.51 ERA, 4.99 FIP, and 4.57 xFIP over 80 innings. He’s walked over five batters per nine innings in his big league career.

It’s unclear now when Montero will be back, if he ever will be. Right now, he’s holding onto his 40-man roster spot with all he’s got. Perhaps the only thing that saved him this time around was that David Wright could be transferred to the 60-day DL to make room for Familia. But if Wright ever comes back—dare to dream—or if the Mets need to add more players through free agency or trades, Montero could be a roster casualty. And if he is outrighted off the 40-man at some point, then not only will we likely not see him the big leagues again this year, (please hold your applause) but there’s a legitimate chance he would either be claimed by another team, or never perform his way back on to the roster.

This is obviously something that no Mets fan is shedding a tear about at this point, but it is at least little sad to think about. Montero has been in the Mets organization since he was signed at the age of 19 in 2011, and quickly became an exciting prospect. He made BP’s Top 10 Mets prospect list twice, topping out at #4 in 2014. He’s made top-100 prospect lists. He shot through the lower minors, dominating every level below Triple-A from 2011-2013. He was supposed to be an intregal part of the wave of young pitching that would turn this franchise around. He and Jacob deGrom debuted on back-to-back days, and Montero’s debut was the more notable one, because he was thought to have a better future. He had a safe profile as a middle-rotation starter due to his elite command and plus-fastball.

But the loss of that command has wiped him completely off the map, and after his performances the past two years, Montero can no longer be considered to have any sort of future with the Mets. And it’s sad to say, but the Mets really don’t even need him anymore. It is painfully obvious now that the pitcher he was in 2013 is no longer what he is, and there’s very little chance of him ever reaching that level again. The elite command he once possesed escaped him once he advanced out of Double-A, and it’s only gotten worse since then. He walked 10.1% of hitters at the Triple-A level in 2014 and 11.9% of hitters in the majors that year. In 2016, he walked 10.4% of hitters in Triple-A, and getting demoted back to Double-A didn’t even help him that much, as his walk rate only barely dropped to 9.5% in Binghamton. He walked 17.2% of the hitters he faced in the big leagues last year, albeit in a small sample. And then this year happened.

Montero’s control is long, long gone. And without his command, he is not an MLB-level pitcher. If 2016 is any indication, he’s not even a Triple-A level pitcher. Players who are not even good enough to cut it in Triple-A shouldn’t be taking up valuable roster spaces for contending teams. While it would be nice if the Mets could cling on to Montero at the backend of the 40-man as a lottery ticket in hopes of that control pitcher ever coming through again, they can’t afford to continue hoping against hope. Espcially not with a roster that consistently gets ravaged by injuries as much as this one does, causing those 40-man spots to become even more valuable.

So it could be time for the Mets to officially cut bait on Montero soon. The only other players who could realistically be outrighted off the Mets’ 40-man roster at this point are probably Erik Goeddel, Paul Sewald, and Sean Gilmartin. But Gilmartin and Sewald have added value in being left-handed, and Gilmartin better than Montero at this point. Goeddel’s arm injuries have derailed his career, but he’s probably a better pitcher than Montero as well. Truthfully, Montero simply cannot get major league hitters out for any extended period of time, and the argument could be made that he’s the worst pitcher on the 40-man roster by a safe margin. If the Mets need to make some additions or if Wright gets healthy, it could spell the end of Montero’s Mets career.

Montero’s career is a reminder that pitching prospects are just that: prospects. And now it may be close to the end of the road for this former prospect. With the amount of young pitching that has made its way through the Mets’ system in recent years, there needed to be at least one complete bust; it’s just the law of averages. But at least Noah Syndergaard turned out pretty decently.

 Photo credit: Steve Mitchell – USA Today Sports

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