Why Montgomery earned 'Big Smooth' moniker

March 29th, 2024

This story was excerpted from Scott Merkin’s White Sox Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.

CHICAGO -- They call shortstop “Big Smooth.”

White Sox hitting coach Marcus Thames gave that moniker to the team’s No. 1 prospect and the game's No. 9 overall prospect, according to MLB Pipeline. And Montgomery, who begins the 2024 campaign with Triple-A Charlotte on Friday in Memphis, Tenn., took to the description.

“When he first said it, he kind of threw me off-guard. But then I was like … I kind of like it,” Montgomery told MLB.com during the final week of Spring Training. “It’s a cool relationship we have there.

“He’s not wrong for giving me that. I think I’m pretty smooth,” Montgomery added with a laugh. “The game doesn’t really speed up on me. I guess it’s a compliment in some way.”

Thames’ nickname for Montgomery centers on how everything he does is nice and easy. That intangible will be evaluated during the 22-year-old’s first foray into International League action, with just 217 plate appearances at Double-A Birmingham as the highest level of competition on his résumé.

This Charlotte experience is the next stop on Montgomery’s path toward the Majors, with his big league debut possibly coming during the 2024 season. It’s incumbent on reporters to make such predictions, especially for a team such as the White Sox working under a rebuild and looking for the boost from a top young player.

For Montgomery, the work and the approach surpass any need for an estimated big league timetable.

“I’ve worried about it in the past and it affects your play. You just gotta worry about where you are at right now,” Montgomery said. “They have a plan for me; they have a plan for everybody.

“It’s controlling what I can control; and that’s my effort, focus and how I am as a teammate. That’s a lot of what [manager] Pedro [Grifol] preaches. If I do those things, everything else will work itself out.”

Montgomery’s recent time in big league camp was not so much about results, as he finished 3-for-20 in 13 games. It was more about good health after being sidelined last spring by an oblique strain and experience gained at this upper level.

Shortstop Paul DeJong was one of the veterans Montgomery talked with in Glendale, Ariz., learning the importance of everyday practice. In the field, practice shortstop reps exactly how you will play. Once inside the batting cage, don’t use the first round to have a little warm-up.

“Once you step in the cage, it’s business. It’s what I’ve learned from a lot of those guys,” Montgomery said. “You have to focus on your craft, put a lot of effort into that. Once you start swinging, don’t create any bad habits of swinging 50 percent. Swing like you are going to swing in the game.”

Said DeJong: “We all have our individual talents and skill sets but being able to kind of give him some framework to utilize his skills is really important. His attitude was great, his work ethic. He’s always happy. That’s a huge part of not just the skill set but your overall temperament can carry you throughout the season with the ups and downs.”

General manager Chris Getz, Grifol, Thames and third-base coach Eddie Rodriguez were some of the people in the room when Montgomery was reassigned to Minor League camp during Spring Training. The message from them was simple -- play hard and show effort, because he’ll be held to a higher standard attached to his lofty prospect status.

That status or standard doesn’t worry “Big Smooth.”

“I just felt like I needed more at-bats and needed to play more games,” Montgomery said. “Everybody here knows I can hit. Everybody knows I can do all those things. In Spring Training, you don’t really want to [chase results] and look for hits. Once you do that, you kind of go down a dark path. I’m taking one day at a time and enjoying myself and enjoying all these guys.”

“The quality of at-bats is always very sound. He’s very under control,” Getz said. “He got a full Spring Training, no hiccups from a health standpoint. We just want to continue that throughout the year, have him post on a regular basis. A talent like that, he’ll let us know when he’s ready.”