Rox No. 6 prospect Montero enthusiastically makes strides

August 4th, 2022

SAN DIEGO – Elehuris Montero, the Rockies’ No. 6 prospect, according to MLB Pipeline, has had a blast at someone else’s celebration the last two nights.

Montero, 23, has begun his fourth callup with a double each of the last two nights in losses to the Padres. The Petco Park dwellers’ sold-out, 9-1 hootenanny Wednesday night marked the arrivals of trade acquisitions Juan Soto, Josh Bell and Brandon Drury -- who celebrated his first at-bat as a Swinging Friar with a first-inning grand slam off Chad Kuhl (10.45 ERA over his last five starts).

It may be the Padres’ party. But Montero, who doubled in Tuesday’s 3-2 loss in a doubleheader nightcap, can smile if he wants to. You would smile, too, if the Rockies were giving you a chance.

“You’re in the big leagues,” Montero said in Spanish, with bullpen catcher Aaron Muñoz translating. “You’ve got to have fun. It’s normal. I’m having some confidence here. I’m with family -- teammates that I enjoy being around. Yesterday we lost, but I had a great game. You’ve got to stay happy. Enjoy it.”

Montero’s other Major League cameos were brief. He debuted with a 2-for-4 performance in a 10-1 victory over the Reds on May 1. In callups in June and July, Montero appeared in a total of 10 games and had 31 plate appearances. Most of his work was done before games, in batting practice and fielding drills at first base and third base, and the Rockies felt acclimating himself to the Majors was valuable, even when he wasn’t playing.

Montero, who came from the Cardinals in the Nolan Arenado swap, played at third base Wednesday as Ryan McMahon rested. He played at first Tuesday to keep C.J. Cron off his feet. Designated hitter is another option. Montero’s incremental progress places him on a path toward more opportunity.

“Don’t quote us that this is the right time, but we’re going to try to play him a little bit more than we did last time,” Rockies manager Bud Black said.

The Rockies’ 3-11 record since the All-Star break has dragged the overall record to 46-61, which is a signal to look beyond this year. But with the strength of the farm system at the lower levels, Montero is one of few Major League-ready prospects pushing for big league time. His final grade will be determined by game performance against top pitchers, who during previous at-bats schooled him with breaking and offspeed pitches.

But Montero has done his homework.

Montero has batted .310 with a .392 on-base percentage, 15 home runs and 54 RBIs at Triple-A Albuquerque. There is a decided difference between the quality of pitches in the Majors and Minors, but Montero manipulated his plate appearances in a way that encouraged pitchers to use their best put-away pitches.

“The biggest difference was me seeing more pitches down there, then adjusting,” Montero said. “I wanted to take that, then bring that here. I was able to spit on more pitches, and I became a little more consistent that way.”

In the two games, Montero has been competitive.

Tuesday he doubled off the left-center wall and drew a hit-by-pitch from Padres starter Reiss Knehr. He had some competitive swings against All-Star closer Josh Hader, freshly acquired from the Brewers, and was robbed of a bloop hit by Wil Myers’ over-the-head catch. Wednesday’s double off Blake Snell went to a similar left-center spot.

“It's happening before our eyes,” Black said. “He’s not a finished product. But he's shown from last Spring Training until now a little bit more plate discipline. The at-bats look comfortable. I do think that the bat speed has improved from last spring when he first came over.

“He is basically a year and a half more mature and experienced, and for a young player, that’s a lot.”

Montero also is a devoted pregame worker on his defense. Dropping his elbow from third was a flaw that caught the attention of third-base coach Stu Cole, who stays on Montero to take his hips and feet into the throw. Those mechanics position him to keep his release point high.

Cole says Montero doesn’t have exceptional range but “is very close to being a steady third baseman at the Major League level. And to see the effort that he puts in, it won't take him too long to be solidified.” Cole also believes he is handling the translation to first base.

And he’s handling it all with excitement.