Grilling helping Rockies prospect sizzle in AFL

October 17th, 2023

This story was excerpted from Thomas Harding’s Rockies Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Rockies center fielder and No. 8 prospect  sports broader shoulders, a stronger chest and sturdier legs.

Montgomery, 21, the team’s first-round pick in the 2021 MLB Draft, spent time in the weight room. Lifting a spatula, it turns out, is close to pumping iron in importance.

“I learned how to cook my own meals, making steaks on the grill, so it’s easier to maintain weight when you are eating well,” said Montgomery, weighing in at 215 -- a 10-pound jump from the end of a solid-but-not-super season at High-A Spokane.

Montgomery’s body looks ready to take flight. Could Monday night be an indication that his swing is ready to do the same?

Montgomery is putting together a solid collection of hits for the Salt River Rafters in the Arizona Fall League. His 3-for-5 performance from the leadoff spot in Monday’s 7-6 Rafters victory over the Scottsdale Scorpions left his batting average at .405 (15-for-37), and his seven walks place his on-base percentage at .500 through nine appearances.

A sixth-inning triple off the center-field wall at Scottsdale Stadium, however, was what Montgomery and the Rockies believe should happen with regularity. While batting .251 with 10 home runs and 59 RBIs in 109 games at Spokane, Montgomery consistently hit balls hard but not in the air.

Monday’s triple was Montgomery’s first extra-base hit in the AFL. Slugging, not just hitting, against the top prospects in baseball this fall could propel his career forward come 2024. 

“Big picture for Benny, we’re working to get the ball off the ground -- something we’ve worked on for awhile, and we’re still working at it,” Nic Wilson, the Rockies’ Minor League hitting coordinator, said. “That’s something that’s becoming super-important to him right now.

“These games are an excellent test. He’s seeing good-on-good reps -- the guys on the other side are all dudes. The challenge is real.”

A key, Wilson said, is being consistently on time against the fastball. The fix is not manipulating the bat or body movements to artificially lift the ball, but honing his approach and timing. The added strength should allow him to maintain his swing.

After the season at Spokane, Montgomery understands the need for consistency. He sizzled at .333 in April, was a respectable .265 in June and .333 again in July. Then there were the other months -- .183 in May, .165 in August and .206 in September.

There were extenuating circumstances the final two months. On July 30, Montgomery and Spokane left fielder Juan Guerrero collided knee-to-knee while attempting to field a fly ball. Montgomery was carted off the field with a left knee injury. He played regularly but never regained his production.

“I’d be fine for a good two weeks, then it would start to hurt a bit, but it’s all good now,” Montgomery said. “I’ve just got to develop some consistency, and find all the right routines to make sure I can do that.”

Montgomery is part of the outfield depth the Rockies have built through the Draft, the international program and the trade that landed Rookie of the Year candidate Nolan Jones from the Guardians last November. Brenton Doyle grabbed center field as a rookie and is a favorite to win a Gold Glove Award, and Sean Bouchard, Hunter Goodman and Michael Toglia saw outfield time in ‘23.

The Rockies have three outfielders in the MLB Pipeline Top 100 -- Yanquiel Fernandez (No. 49), Jordan Beck (No. 83) and Zac Veen (No. 92). A teammate of Montgomery with the Rafters, Rockies No. 6 prospect Sterlin Thompson plays some corner outfield but also is seeing infield time in the AFL. Like Montgomery, Thompson has a three-hit game for the Rafters.

Montgomery and Thompson sizzle together on the field, and aren’t bad when it comes to firing up the grill.

“We were roommates in Spokane, grilling stuff,” Montgomery said. “My go-to is steak, and I found that if you get truffle oil and salted butter and melt the two together, you can make anything taste good. Get that and throw it in the pan.”

Maybe Montgomery will deliver enough hits that his sparse cookbook will be a best seller among Rockies fans.