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Dodgers top prospects 2016: No. 9, Frankie Montas

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The assumed centerpiece to the Dodgers’ end of the Todd Frazier trade, Frankie Montas draws a wide range of opinions on his future, yet few doubt his raw talent. Montas cruised through Double-A, firing a no-hitter in the process, and earned a late-season promotion to the White Sox bullpen. While he could spend some time in Triple-A this season as part of the junior Dodgers’ rotation, Montas is ready for use in a major league pen. Commanding the fastball will be the difference in Montas just being a middle reliever to becoming the sole heir to Kenley Jansen’s throne, if not even more.

Contrary to his listed height and weight on the roster (6’2, 185 lbs.), Montas has filled out his frame and casts an imposing physical presence on the mound. His body type is often compared to early career Bartolo Colon, but Montas appears to have better functional bulk and such a comparison does not assume that Montas will continue to put on bad weight. Regardless, Montas has the type of frame that can fill out too far and he will need to monitor his weight as he ages.

Montas’ strength is quite evident in his pitching. Capable of reaching 100 mph at times, Montas combines arm strength with arm speed to pitch in the upper end of his velocity range as both a starter and out of the pen. Montas also works his strong lower half into his delivery, likely aiding both his velocity and stamina. It’s Montas’ strength and potential durability that have many thinking that Montas could yet pitch out of the rotation.

This belief starts to break down, however, when you look at Montas’ fastball command. Despite a plus grade for velocity and rise, Montas’ command of the pitch is near the bottom of the 20-80 scale, and causes him to expend too many pitches early in starts. The issue likely stems from his mechanics, as Montas will drag his arm through late and lose the release point on his fastball, causing the pitch to miss up armside. Similarly, Montas will struggle to command his fastball in on left handers, leaving the ball out over the plate.

Dodgers 2016 prospects: Nos. 22-27 Nos. 28-32 Nos. 33-60 Overview

Despite poor fastball command, Montas shows more feel for his breaking pitch, which has the shape of a hard slider or knuckle curve. The slider is a true swing and miss pitch that is effective both in the zone and as a chase pitch. The pitch has a velocity separation more akin to a curveball off the fastball, adding further deception to the pitch. He can take something off the pitch early for strikes, or ramp it up to sharpen the brake for strikeouts.

Montas has received praise for a fledgling change-up, but I haven’t seen it enough to evaluate it. That said, I don’t anticipate it being a primary offer for him if he ends up in the bullpen. Additionally, it might be more prudent to narrow Montas’ focus to maintaining the release point of just two pitches for now, the slider and fastball. Perhaps as he improves getting his delivery more on line to home plate, he can start to re-work in some of his secondary offerings.

Though he was always tough to hit in the minor leagues, Montas’ strikeout rate took a huge jump in the major league bullpen. Incidentally, the better hitters he faced laid off the fastball enough to generate a walk rate over 13 percent in a limited sample. Few successful starters can live with even a 10-percent walk percentage, but Montas’ strikeout rate and walk rate aren’t too far off from some highly successful relievers.

If you are resigned to moving him to the pen, the good news is that his best case scenario is rather high. Though he lacks his fastball command and his breaking ball isn’t quite as devastating, I see some similarities between Montas and Dellin Betances as a reliever that’s capable of living with a high walk rate when coupled with a high whiff rate and more innings pitched than the average reliever.

Continuing the comparison, Montas could serve a similar role that Betances served in his full rookie season, arriving as a bullpen swiss army knife not necessarily married to a set role but providing high quality production in early leverage situations. If you can live with the walks, Montas has the potential to be the best middle inning bridge to Chris Hatcher-Kenley Jansen, and there’s enough talent in him to eventually surpass that role in a big way.

The plan for now appears to be to continue Montas’ instruction in a starting role. Whether that’s because the Dodgers actually believe he can start or they want him building stamina or sharpening his mechanics over more innings remains to be seen. The relative fragility of the positions on the Dodgers’ roster could determine where Montas finds his opening. Long term, I just don’t see the fastball command developing enough for starting, but when the Dodgers finally decide to turn him loose in the Dodger bullpen, the upside could yield a significant return.

2016 prospect list