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Syndergaard, Montero put up zeros as Futures starters

Top Mets pitching prospects oppose each other with impressive scoreless innings

NEW YORK -- Until Sunday, Noah Syndergaard had not had much opportunity to watch fellow Mets prospect Rafael Montero pitch. His only exposure came this spring, when Syndergaard was present to catch a quick inning.

"I think he struck three people out on nine pitches," Syndergaard recalled.

That performance might have seemed similar to Sunday at the Futures Game, when Montero needed only nine pitches to retire the side in order at Citi Field. Pitching for the US Team opposite Montero, Syndergaard held his own with a scoreless top of the first, whiffing one batter and touching 96-mph on the radar gun.

"Just being out there was incredible," Syndergaard said. "I tried to stay focused on the catcher, but the cheering, loud fans made it hard to."

Outfielder Brandon Nimmo, who won a fan vote competition to make the US roster, finished 0-for-2 with a lineout.

"It was everything that I was looking forward to," Nimmo said. "What a beautiful ballpark. What a great welcome from the fans. I just had a great time."

For both Syndergaard and Montero, the Futures Game was an opportunity to showcase why they have become two of the hottest pitching prospects in baseball. Syndergaard wrapped up his first half with a four-start run of brilliance at Double-A Binghamton, posting a 1.35 ERA with 26 strikeouts and four walks since his promotion. The 20-year-old chalked that up to feeling "more comfortable" against older competition, simply because he feels he has nothing to lose.

Montero, 23, has not thrived quite so much since a promotion to Triple-A Las Vegas, producing a 4.26 ERA with 29 strikeouts and 10 walks in 33 innings. But Montero was dominant during his 11-start run to open the year with Binghamton, going 7-3 with a 2.43 ERA, 72 strikeouts and 10 free passes.

"I've just been working really hard," Montero said. "There's nothing different."

Maybe not for Montero, who has made several visits to New York City since signing as an international free agent at age 20. For Syndergaard, the Futures Game experience was all new, largely because it was his first trip to New York.

After arriving Friday, Syndergaard spent a whirlwind day exploring the MLB Fan Cave, offices and the All-Star FanFest, then watching a comedy show in Times Square with his family.

"This treatment we're having is awesome," Syndergaard said. "I can't wait to get to the big leagues."

The Mets can't wait either, considering they parted with reigning National League Cy Young Award winner R.A. Dickey to acquire Syndergaard and catcher Travis d'Arnaud in a seven-player deal last December. So far, Syndergaard has done nothing but justify the trade with his production over two levels, molding himself into the same type of super-prospect that Matt Harvey and Zack Wheeler were before him.

The Mets envision their pitching staff of the future including Harvey, Wheeler, Syndergaard, Montero and Jon Niese, all of whom are under team control at least through 2018. When Sandy Alderson took over as general manager following the 2010 season, he resolved to build around pitching, which is exactly what he has done with that group.

Then again, one of the most significant risks Alderson made as GM was spending his 2011 first-round Draft pick on Nimmo, a Wyoming high schooler largely untested against top-tier competition. Though Nimmo has struggled since returning from the disabled list this year, he did enough in April to make the South Atlantic League All-Star team at age 20.

"It was a huge adjustment," Nimmo said of his first Minor League experience. "It's a whole new game, a whole new speed of the game. It takes a little bit for your mind to stop thinking and start reacting again. But once you get to that point, things get a lot easier again."

With Harvey and Wheeler already in the big leagues, and d'Arnaud a clean bill of health away from joining them, Syndergaard, Montero and Nimmo are now the three most intriguing names on the farm for the Mets.

Whether Alderson's rebuilding plan unfolds as quickly as hoped will depend largely upon those three.

"I definitely see a bright future for the Mets," Nimmo said. "We've got Noah coming up and Montero, along with some other pretty great guys. You already have Harvey here, you already have Wheeler and you have [David] Wright to lead them, so I think there's a bright future ahead."

Anthony DiComo is a reporter for Follow him on Twitter @AnthonyDicomo.
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