Montgomery preparing for potential breakout in '24

November 30th, 2023

CHICAGO -- It would have been understandable for to hang up the “Do Not Disturb" sign over the past few weeks even before his planned early December trip to Cabo.

As the White Sox No. 1 prospect, and No. 17 overall, according to MLB Pipeline, Montgomery was a focal point as the highest-rated prospect playing in the Arizona Fall League. Those 20 games for the Glendale Desert Dogs ended an extended run of baseball for the left-handed-hitting shortstop, beginning with his first big league camp this past February.

There were back and oblique injuries that cost Montgomery on-field time at the season’s outset, coupled with the usual ups and downs of a season. But finishing up in Arizona reinforced the idea of mental preparation for the 21-year-old.

“You look at the calendar, it’s Nov. 2 and you are like, ‘Why am I still playing baseball?’” said Montgomery with a laugh during a conversation with at Camelback Ranch. “We do the same thing physically every day to get ourselves ready, but I mean, we have to get our mind ready.

“With me, I kind of just breathe, do some breathing exercises and stuff like that. Most of it is just kind of staying in the moment and knowing it’s the same game -- but you still have to go and perform.”

Montgomery viewed his on-field action in early November as a precursor of big things to come for the White Sox.

But before the two-sport Indiana high school star worries about hoisting championship trophies, he has to get to the Majors. His time should arrive in 2024, although White Sox general manager Chris Getz said it’s unlikely Montgomery will break camp with the team.

The White Sox declined the $14 million option on Tim Anderson one day before Montgomery was named Most Valuable Player at the Fall Stars game in Mesa, Ariz., bringing an apparent end to the face of the franchise’s tenure at shortstop covering most of the past eight seasons. Montgomery has posted an .847 OPS over 186 career Minor League games, logging just 179 at-bats for Double-A Birmingham over the past two years, so he’s understandably a work in progress.

But watching Montgomery for just a short time reveals that intangible “it” factor that’s often seen in veterans. He has a polished plate approach beyond his years in the game.

“In flipping to him and throwing to him, he doesn’t swing unless I put it in one spot,” said Nicky Delmonico, the one-time White Sox outfielder who has worked with Montgomery as a hitting coach in both Birmingham and Glendale. “It’s very impressive and it’s day to day. He does a really good job of zoning in on what he wants to do.

“For a young hitter, that’s really hard to find. It can be annoying because when I’m throwing to him, it has to be right there, or he doesn’t swing. I tell him all the time, ‘Don’t expand. I don’t care if I throw 10 balls, you wait for that one.’ He has a very, very advanced approach to the game. When he’s locked in mentally, he’s very tough to beat.”

Work will pick back up for Montgomery in mid-December when he travels to Nashville, Tenn., for offseason preparation. Once again, Montgomery will hit with and learn from Major Leaguers such as Jake Burger, Brent Rooker, Kevin Smith and Ryan Noda.

“Guys who made a name for themselves this year,” Montgomery said. “I’m excited because I have a good chance of pushing for my debut so I’m going to be picking their brains.”

After hitting three home runs and 20 RBIs in 20 games for Glendale, Montgomery returned home and reviewed his performance. He studied his defense, as well as the good and “the at-bats where you look stupid,” because as Montgomery pointed out, baseball is a game of adjustments. In his eyes, you learn from mistakes.

Baseball also is a marathon and not a sprint, with Montgomery understanding more about the day-to-day mindset.

“If it’s not a good offensive night, I just put it in my head I’m going to play the crap out of shortstop.” Montgomery said. “Sometimes it’s neither, in the field or at the plate, so I try to be a leader and uplift guys and [bring] positive vibes in the dugout. You have to find a balance.

“I’ve learned a lot about myself as a player, person and as a teammate. I’m feeling more comfortable with being who I am, being that leader role. I’m excited for the next step.”