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Lefty Montgomery is a depth option for Rays

Tampa Bay's No. 8-ranked prospect could contribute as starter or in 'pen @BerniePleskoff

Tampa Bay Rays left-handed pitcher Mike Montgomery has a fresh start with a new organization.

The Kansas City Royals selected Montgomery in the first round as the 36th overall pick taken in the 2008 First-Year Player Draft. He is now No. 8 on the Rays' Top 20 Prospect list.

Montgomery was drafted out of Hart High School in Newhall, Calif. Coincidentally, that's the same school that produced James Shields, a player Montgomery was traded for in a deal the Rays made with the Royals in December 2012.

Montgomery came to Tampa Bay along with infielder Patrick Leonard, outfielder Wil Myers and pitcher Jake Odorizzi for Shields and pitcher Wade Davis.

Montgomery has a classic tall, lean, athletic and durable frame at 6-foot-4, 200 pounds. His high three-quarters delivery allows him to get some downhill movement on his pitches. It's a factor that helps Montgomery hide the ball well from hitters and requires them to determine the trajectory of the pitch a tad more quickly than usual.

I was able to scout Montgomery in the recently concluded Arizona Fall League, where he pitched out of the bullpen for the Salt River Rafters.

When Montgomery is most successful, he mixes his full repertoire of fastball, changeup and curveball. I didn't see much in the way of a slider, but it's possible he uses that pitch as well. Regardless, everything works off a fastball that sits fairly consistently at 92-93 mph.

It isn't unusual for a pitcher who is normally a starter to work out of the bullpen late in games in the AFL. That's how Montgomery was used. He generally pitched the seventh innings of the games I saw.

In the Fall League, Montgomery threw 14 innings and yielded 12 hits and four walks for a WHIP of 1.14. He posted an ERA of 2.57, giving up only four earned runs. Montgomery finished the fall with a 0-1 record and two holds in nine games.

Still only 24, Montgomery has already spent six seasons in the Minors. Having thrown 663 1/3 innings, he's had the opportunity to continue to develop his repertoire against increasingly better competition.

In addition to the 8 2/3 innings he threw during two starts at Class A Charlotte, Montgomery pitched 108 2/3 innings at Triple-A Durham in the International League in 2013, going 7-8 with a 4.72 ERA and a WHIP of 1.46. He started 19 of the 20 games in which he appeared for Durham. Montgomery struck out 77 hitters, an average of 6.4 per nine innings, and he walked an average of four hitters per nine.

Of the three pitches I saw Montgomery throw, I felt his fastball was average in movement and efficiency, the curve had nice tilt and deceptive movement, and the changeup was a plus pitch. The changeup did what was intended. It consistently changed the balance and eye level of the hitters.

Montgomery effectively kept the ball away from hitters. It will help if he busts some pitches inside, but working away was his general game plan.

Right-handed hitters batted .280 against Montgomery this past season, compared to .222 for lefties. That's a concern.

Montgomery has had a barking shoulder at times, and it's something he has monitor.

There were times when Montgomery looked very comfortable and in rhythm on the mound in the AFL. Other times, it looked as if he was struggling to find a consistent release point and arm slot.

If Montgomery can keep the ball low in the zone, he will be most effective. With his height -- and pitching downhill -- he can induce groundouts by keeping the ball down. I saw him do that with good results.

Montgomery has upside and a bright future as either a starting pitcher or a situational or late-inning reliever. I project him as a starter. Montgomery has the repertoire, the mound presence and fairly efficient mechanics to give his team innings from the rotation.

Regardless of his ultimate role, Montgomery is a very good left-handed option, provided that he refines his command and control.

Bernie Pleskoff has served as a professional scout for the Houston Astros and Seattle Mariners. Follow @BerniePleskoff on Twitter.

Tampa Bay Rays, Mike Montgomery