What's next for this Rockies rookie?

September 29th, 2022

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.

Rockies corner infielder has experienced a common rookie whirlwind.

Fans clamored for the club to unleash him during multiple callups from Triple-A Albuquerque. Judged in early August to have done enough to stay on the big club, Montero, 24, built a .297 batting average through Aug. 10. But between then and Tuesday night’s non-start against the Giants, he batted just .200. He has struggled especially with the down-and-away breaking ball. He made the adjustment in the Minors, but it’s on his big league to-do list.

“He’s getting a lot of Major League breaking stuff, which is different from Triple-A,” Rockies manager Bud Black said. “As we’ve said before, if a guy has good Triple-A breaking stuff, usually he’s in the big leagues.”

Some version of the story is the same for all but the very few stars who succeed from the beginning and make it last. For Montero, 24, who going into Tuesday was batting .239 with six home runs and 18 RBIs in 48 Major League games, the question becomes if the learning leads to stardom -- on a team best served by developing its own stars.

While no one knows that answer, some of Montero’s play indicates he may have a clue. That’s not a backhanded assessment, given that the game has smacked more than a few prospects down and out of the league.  A two-homer game against the Giants on Aug. 19 and extra-base hits off the D-backs’ Madison Bumgarner and Zac Gallen have helped him maintain confidence as he works toward truly becoming a Major Leaguer.

“Any type of experience up here this year leading into next year is going to help me,” Montero said, with bullpen catcher Aaron Muñoz interpreting. “I know what it takes to be up here now. I have a little bit more experience. Going into next year, I’m going to try to be 100 percent ready to go.”

Hitting coach Dave Magadan noted that pitchers are using Montero’s timing mechanism -- a step away from the pitcher with his front (left) foot -- against him by varying the speed of their motions to put him off-balance. Montero is working on the timing, and Magadan believes he will be rewarded. Magadan and assistant hitting coach Andy González coach him in Spanish, and all are on the same page.

“There’s definitely more on the table,” Magadan said. “He showed in Triple-A that he will, for the most part, swing at the right pitches. It’s always a learning curve, even for a guy that is proven in the Minor Leagues to be a disciplined hitter, facing pitchers we face you’ve got to get some experience against those guys.

“He’s very even-tempered, easy to talk to and open. Whenever we throw something at him that we think is going to help him, it’s right away, ‘Let’s go do it.’”

Montero, working to improve his footwork at third base and simply gain experience at first base, will have the opportunity in 2023 to earn his first Opening Day in the Majors.

But, unless the Rockies make deals in the winter, veteran C.J. Cron and switch-hitting fellow rookie Michael Toglia (himself figuring out the Majors) also will figure into the first-base picture. All three can be used as designated hitter, and Toglia also plays right field.

Montero -- plus Toglia and multiple other callups -- populate much of the lineup for the final weeks of this season as the Rockies evaluate. But Montero realizes those chances continue only if he and the others prove this year’s lumps lead to wins next year.

“Individually, you see ups and downs and results haven’t been there, obviously,” Montero said. “But most importantly, it’s guys going out there trying to compete every day, help the team win, however it may be.”