I was wondering, early Tuesday evening, whether the minor league games meant less to me this time of year. At this point in the year, I have relatively well-defined opinions on most of the Mets' prospects.
And then Tuesday happened. Rafael Montero took a no-hitter into the bottom of the eighth when he was pulled after 107 pitches and 7.2 scoreless/hitless innings. One outing did not change my opinion of Montero, but listening to him chase history was fun. His final line: 7.2 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 3 BB, 5 K. Kyle Allen gave up a leadoff double in the bottom of the ninth as the two Mets' farmhands combined on a one-hitter.
Montero gave up two runs on five hits with 14 strikeouts in his previous start in Clearwater. St. Lucie manager Ryan Ellis explained that location separated the two starts, "They were each very good in their own right. In Clearwater, he left some pitches up and out over the middle of the plate and those fell in for hits," Ellis said. "Tonight, there was nothing over the middle of the plate. He hit the corners with his fastball. He mixed in his slider and and his changeup. It seemed like he had an extra gear whenever he needed it."
Thus far, in eight starts in the Florida State League, Montero has run a 2.13 ERA with a 5.1 K/BB ratio (56 K/11 BB) in 50.2 innings.
Early in the year, Montero could survive, and even succeed in the South Atlantic League by locating his fastball and mixing in changeups, while his slider lagged as his third pitch. That appears to be no longer the case according to Ellis, "He can throw his slider when he's ahead in the count, when he's behind in the count and he can throw it when he's even. He can throw any pitch at any point."
While Montero was sitting around 93 mph with his fastball through the middle innings, his approach caught Ellis' eye, "What's really impressive is that he's not pitching away from contact," Ellis said. "It's his control more than his stuff. His control is getting him swings and misses. He's a very smart kid. He's very composed."
Montero can come very close to locking up a spot in the double-A Binghamton rotation in 2013 with another few good starts down the stretch and in the playoffs in the Florida State League this year. He'll be 22 in October, so he would be age-appropriate in double-A. This year, the Mets promoted Cory Mazzoni from St. Lucie after 12 starts while last year the team gave Greg Peavey 10, Matt Harvey 14 and Jeurys Familia, who was repeating the league, 11 starts before moving them up to Binghamton. With eight starts to his credit in the Florida State League already, Montero will be right in line with his fellow farmhands in starting 2013 in AA.
CF Cesar Puello, who returned to the St. Lucie lineup from a pulled hamstring on Saturday, was 3-for-4 with two doubles, two stolen bases, and an RBI before leaving for a pinch-runner in the eighth. In the third inning, Puello stole home on a double-steal when TJ Rivera took second. Ellis explained that Puello "was just a little tired. He did a lot of running around out there and made some nice catches in the outfield." Puello, now 21, needs a big August to avoid a precipitous drop down my Mets prospect rankings after hitting just .258/.318/.396 with a 43/5 K/BB ratio in 45 games. As of late Tuesday, Ellis was not sure whether Puello would be back in the lineup on Wednesday.
LF/CF Alonzo Harris had a big night, going 4-for-4 with a double and a homerun. He's up to .290/.365/.434 in 95 games with a career-high 40 walks against 50 strikeouts while going 31-for-40 stealing bases, also a career-high. The 40 walks are not just a career-high, he's never drawn 30 in a season before. The Mets moved the speedy Harris off of second last year for centerfield and left. He can really run and plays hard. In the past, he fell in love with his power, and took a big swing, but the drop in strikeouts this year and the rise in walks is a welcome sign that he's starting to tailor his game around his speed. Ellis, who was his hitting coach in Savannah in 2010, and managed him in 2011, said that Harris had "Transformed in front of my eyes the last two years. He's starting to hit the ball the other way and take a pitch when he needs to, and be aggressive when he needs to." Harris is up to .323/.399/.457 in 40 games in the second half.
Coming into this year, Harris had never stolen 20 bases in a season. Now, he's the only guy in the Mets' organization with more than 20 thefts. "He's become a lot smarter on the bases. Now, he just wants to go, to go. Last year, you just had to push, push, push," Ellis explained. Harris is a more confident runner this year, a confidence born out of knowledge. "He's a lot more savvy on the bases. He's studying pitchers and reading moves. It's just all of the experience he's gotten the last few years, is finally coming to fruition," his skipper said.
Harris' listed birthday is 11/16/89, but I believe that's an old typo and his actual birthday is 1/16/89, making him already 23. It's a significant difference. Given his age, it's hard to put an average regular ceiling on him, but life as a bench piece for his speed is possible.
3B Aderlin Rodriguez launched his fifth homerun in 25 games in St. Lucie and his 21st in 108 games between Savannah and St. Lucie this year. After a slow three weeks in July, the 20-year old has raked at a .333/.407/.750 rate with a double and three homers in his six games in August. Ellis, who managed Rodriguez a year ago sees a young player working smarter now, "I see a big difference [versus 2011]. He's working a little bit more on his weaknesses."