The KC Royals traded a former high draft pick in 2012, then reacquired him last season. But the current member of the starting rotation might not have a long future with the team.
Mike Montgomery, the 30-year old presumptive fourth starter for the KC Royals, pitched reasonably well in the club’s Friday evening intrasquad game. He surrendered four hits and one run in three innings, not a bad outing as he prepares for the short season to come.
But even if Montgomery continues to fare well in Summer Camp, and then into the regular campaign, 2020 could be the last of his two stints with the Kansas City organization. A deep inventory of young, talented pitchers close to major league readiness leaves little, if any, room for hurlers like Montgomery.
The Royals-Montgomery relationship dates to 2008, when the club made him a supplemental first round draft pick out of high school. He immediately signed for a reported $988,000, then headed straight to Rookie ball and impressed with a 1.69 ERA and 2-1 record in 12 games. He spent the next four seasons working his way up the Royals’ minor league ladder; despite a losing record (23-32, and 10-23 in the final two seasons), Tampa Bay found him sufficiently promising that they traded for him in the December 2012 deal that made James Shields and Wade Davis Royals.
The Rays realized a moderate return on their investment–Montgomery went 17-14 in two minor league seasons, including 10-5 in 25 2014 Triple A starts, but traded him to Seattle just a week before the ’15 season began.
He reached the majors that year, pitching superbly in his debut in a two-run loss to the Yankees for which he was essentially blameless: he left a 1-1 tie after striking out four and scattering four hits in six innings and didn’t figure in the decision after the Yanks won in extra innings.
Montgomery pitched for the M’s that season and the next before they shipped him to the Cubs near the 2016 trade deadline. He pitched primarily out of the bullpen and got the final out of Chicago’s ’16 World Series title. But when Chicago needed a catcher last July, they traded him to the Royals for Martin Maldonado. He returned to the rotation as soon as he arrived back in Kansas City, but went a disappointing 2-7 in 13 starts.
That Montgomery found his way back to a starting role, and remains there as the KC Royals prepare for an abbreviated 2020 season, is attributable to two obvious circumstances–the club’s rotation is shaky and inconsistent, and its stable of profoundly talented and promising rotation prospects, including Brady Singer, Kris Bubic, Jackson Kowar, Daniel Lynch and Daniel Tillo, have no big league experience and are, arguably, a season away from being fully prepared for regular Kauffman Stadium duty.
Whether any of those youngsters debut this year remains to be seen; even more uncertain is how they’ll perform initially against major league hitters when they do arrive. But room must be made for them when they’re ready, which will probably be sooner rather than later. Barring an extension, Danny Duffy‘s last contract year is 2021, making 2020 critical for him, and the club may choose to let him test free agency or trade him for prospects this season or next; Brad Keller and Jakob Junis have each shown enough that moving them is unlikely.
That leaves Montgomery, who seems dispensable unless he puts in an extraordinary 2020 campaign. Although he induces a good number of ground balls, an endearing quality on any staff in any ballpark (even spacious, pitcher-friendly Kauffman), his eclectic repertoire (sinker, cutter, changeup, fastball and curve) is somewhat unremarkable and he hasn’t established himself in 12 professional seasons as a consistently reliable winner. He’s 23-34 in five big league campaigns.
And he’s on a one-year contract.
Montgomery’s future with the KC Royals, then, depends on two primary factors, one if which is within his control, and one of which isn’t. A truly breakout performance this season could secure a place in next year’s rotation, but even good pitching may not be enough for him to avoid being caught up in a pure numbers trap if the team’s young pitchers are good enough to take over soon.
Montgomery’s time is now. In the odd season that will be 2020, he’ll probably see rotation and relief duty. For his sake, he needs to make the very most out of any opportunities he gets.
Mike Montgomery needs to pitch well this season. If he doesn’t, he may not stick with the KC Royals.