Fall League observations: Montas brings heat but hits bumps
Astros' Appel outduels White Sox flame thrower; Dodgers' Schebler impresses vs. former No. 1 pick
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- When the White Sox shipped Jake Peavy to the Red Sox in a three-team trade in July 2013, the key player they got back was outfielder Avisail Garcia from the Tigers. Chicago also received three lower-level prospects from Boston, and one of those lottery tickets started to blossom this year.
Right-hander Francellis Montas reached triple digits with his fastball while in the Red Sox's system, but he didn't do much else to distinguish himself. After the White Sox cleaned up his delivery, he made significant progress with his slider, changeup, control and command. Montas' fastball didn't lose any sizzle, hitting 102 mph on one occasion, and Chicago began to entertain thoughts that he might contribute to its big league rotation in 2015.
Montas has made just one appearance above Class A Advanced, however, and he worked just 81 innings this season because he had meniscus surgery on his left knee in April and on his right knee in June. As a result, the White Sox assigned him to the Arizona Fall League's Glendale Desert Dogs to get more work in and face more advanced hitters.
Montas made his final appearance of the season Wednesday evening against the Salt River Rafters, the AFL's best team, and he turned in his worst performance of the fall. After allowing just five earned runs in his first five starts, he gave up four in three innings. Montas allowed seven hits, a walk and a hit batter while throwing 39 of 64 pitches for strikes.
Montas' fastball registered 98 mph three times, though one of those resulted in an opposite-field ground-rule double by Peter O'Brien (D-backs). The Rafters repeatedly made hard contact against his fastball, which sat at 94-96 and found the strike zone 27 times in 43 tries. Montas' heater generated two swings-and-misses, which resulted in his only two strikeouts of the evening, against Trevor Story (Rockies) and Taylor Featherston (Rockies).
Montas, a 21-year-old who's built more along the lines of a young Bartolo Colon despite being optimistically listed at 6-foot-2 and 185 pounds, couldn't keep the Rafters off his fastball because his secondary pitches were lacking. He didn't get a single swing-and-miss with his slider or changeup. They usually arrived with similar velocity in the upper 80s, and Montas' slider was flat and his changeup didn't have much action too it.
While the White Sox hope Montas one day can form a formidable starting threesome with Chris Sale and Carlos Rodon, some scouts think his less-than-fluid delivery and so-so feel for pitching will make him a reliever with closer upside. That's what he looked like on Wednesday.
• Montas matched up against Mark Appel (Astros), which meant that I caught each of the latter's last three starts. The first game I saw was by far his worst AFL outing, while the last two were much better. (I wrote about the previous two games here and here.)
Appel was in control against Glendale, recording his highest strike-throwing percentage (45 of 64, 70 percent) of the fall. He allowed a second-inning home run to Scott Schebler (Dodgers), but the No. 1 overall pick in the 2013 First-Year Player Draft otherwise blanked the Desert Dogs. Appel permitted three hits, a walk and a hit batter while striking out four in five innings.
Appel notched strikeouts with each of his three pitches: Darnell Sweeney (Dodgers) swinging on 97-mph fastballs in the first and third innings, Shawn Zarraga (Brewers) looking at an 85-mph slider and Nick Ramirez (Brewers) out in front on an 84-mph changeup in the fourth. He created eight swings-and-misses, four on fastballs, two on sliders and two on changeups.
Appel worked from 92-97 mph with his fastball, touching 97 five times. His slider averaged 86 mph, though once again it stood out more for its power than its sharpness. Appel had more faith in his changeup than he showed in his previous two outings.
Appel finished with a 2.61 ERA, 24/8 K/BB ratio and .167 opponent average in 31 innings with Salt River. AFL stats aren't especially meaningful, though in his case they represent a positive step forward and a nice finish to what had been a trying year.
• Schebler had the two best at-bats against Appel. He dealt with six straight mid-90s fastballs in the second inning, getting ahead in the count 3-1 and blasting a 95-mph heater over the fence in right-center. Schebler fouled off a changeup to lead off the fourth before coaxing four straight balls for Appel's lone walk.
The lefty-hitting Schebler also hung in well against southpaw Edgar Olmos (Marlins), taking a 94-mph fastball to the opposite field for a single in the sixth. He finished the day hitting .305/.348/.524 and tied for second in the AFL with five homers.
The Dodgers already have more outfielders than they know what to do with, and Schebler could add to the logjam in the near future. Signed for $300,000 as a 26th-rounder out of Des Moines (Iowa) Area Community College in 2010, he led the high Class A California League in extra-base hits and total bases in 2013 and then did the same in the Double-A Southern League this year. As Schebler showed against Appel, he has a knack for working counts until he gets a pitch he can hammer.