SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Selected in the 11th round of the 2011 First-Year Player Draft out of a small college in Virginia, Mark Montgomery has wasted little time transforming from an off-the-radar prospect to a special find by the Yankees' scouting department.
The 22-year-old right-handed reliever has done nothing but dominate opposing hitters at each level he has pitched since entering professional baseball.
Ranked at No. 14 on the Yankees' Top 20 Prospects list, Montgomery is continuing his torrid pace as one of the club's seven prospects playing for the Scottsdale Scorpions in the Arizona Fall League.
After finishing with a 1.91 ERA and 51 strikeouts in 28 1/3 innings between rookie-level Staten Island and Class A Charleston in 2011, Montgomery recently completed his first full season in the Minor Leagues with an even lower ERA (1.54) in Class A Advanced Tampa and Double-A Trenton. He also kept up his lofty strikeout numbers with 99 in 64 1/3 innings.
This early success has the Longwood University product on the fast track to the Yankees' bullpen.
"I came into the pros with the same mentality as the rest of my career, to compete and try to win my job," Montgomery said. "Thankfully I've been successful and have been able to move up quickly."
Montgomery's out pitch is a nasty slider that complements his low-90s fastball. Even though both pitches are fairly polished, the reliever still believes they can get even stronger.
"You can always get better, there's never a time you can't," he said. "I've been working on the same stuff all year, getting ahead of hitters, fastball location and continuing to throw that slider with conviction. I had to work the zone effectively and work my pitches effectively because you can't get away with it now like you can in some of the lower levels. It has been a good learning experience."
Montgomery also is working on a third pitch that is slowly coming along, even though he hasn't used it much in games.
"I'm tinkering with a changeup," he said. "I've thrown it once here, but mostly it's just been getting ahead in the count and using that slider."
Perhaps most impressive about Montgomery's resume in the Minors thus far has been his ability to keep the ball inside the park. While a lot of strikeout power arms often are susceptible to the long ball, Montgomery has surrendered just one homer in his pro career.
"I haven't fallen behind and given hitters an opportunity to really sit on a pitch and have that advantage," he said. "I don't think about that stuff, though. I hear it but any hitter is thinking he can do it to me. I have to keep working and never let up."
Entering Monday's action, Montgomery has a 2.61 ERA in Arizona while amassing 19 strikeouts in just 10 1/3 innings. Opposing batters are hitting just .143 against him.
The high competition in the AFL, Montgomery says, will help him as the calendar turns to 2013 and he continues his fast march to the Major Leagues.
"Every hitter is here for a reason, you don't have the holes in the lineup," he said. "Just have to get ahead and work the zone to your command. It has been a lot of fun and I'm getting better every day."
Yankees hitters in the Arizona Fall League
Slade Heathcott traveled to Arizona after an injury-abbreviated regular season. Ranked No. 5 on the Yankees' Top 20 Prospects list, the 22-year-old outfielder split time between the rookie-level Yankees of the Gulf Coast League (on injury rehab for five games) and Class A Advanced Tampa with a combined .302 average, five home runs and 29 RBIs. Named an AFL Player of the Week, Heathcott has torn apart the stellar AFL pitching thus far, batting .333 with a .457 on-base percentage and 12 RBIs.
David Adams turned in a quality season at Trenton this year, batting .306 with 44 runs and 48 RBIs. The 25-year-old's average (.274) has taken a dip in Arizona through 73 at-bats, but his on-base percentage stands at a solid .369 thanks to 11 walks. The second baseman also has shown some power in the AFL with seven doubles and three homers.
Austin Romine only played in 31 games this season, so the 23-year-old is in Arizona to make up for lost time. Even though the catcher only has 13 hits in 57 at-bats (.228 average), he boasts a .328 on-base percentage and has scored nine runs.
Yankees pitchers in the Arizona Fall League
Dellin Betances started 26 games between Trenton and Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre this season with little success. The 24-year-old right-hander finished the year with a 6.44 ERA while walking 99 batters in 131 1/3 innings. Betances is ranked No. 17 among Yankees prospects but has continued to struggle in Arizona. In seven relief appearances, he has surrendered seven runs on 11 hits in 10 innings.
Zach Nuding threw 100 innings in 2012 between the GCL Yankees and Tampa, finishing with a 3.51 ERA and a 9-3 record. He missed nearly two months on the disabled list midway through the season. The No. 19 prospect in the Yankees' farm system has regressed in Arizona, allowing 18 runs (14 earned) in 17 2/3 innings.
Dan Burawa missed the entire 2012 season and is in Arizona to build up innings ahead of the 2013 campaign. The 23-year-old has tossed 10 innings thus far but has allowed 13 earned runs on 16 hits while walking 11.