“Good is not good when better is expected.” -Vin Scully
These are the words scouting directors need live by when approaching every draft. You don’t take the floor, you reach for the sky.
You always draft the best player available. Stars win championships. You don’t draft players in the first round for safety, you draft a guy in the first round for their ceiling.
Lewisberry, Pennsylvania outfielder Benny Montgomery might quietly have the highest ceiling of any one player in the 2021 MLB Draft. But he’s got work to do.
Top-of-the-class, uber-projectable outfielders that fall in the draft are not uncommon. In 2017, many scouts actually felt Jo Adell was the best player in the draft, albeit a project. He fell to the no. 10 pick. The result, however, was a player who’s tools were so loud, he ended up the #2 prospect in all of baseball pre-2020.
Regardless of his 2020 struggles, most would still argue Adell’s future is very bright.
2016, as you might recall, saw Kyle Lewis fall all the way to the no. 12 pick in the draft among hit-tool concerns and usable-power trepidation. There were a ton of moving parts at the plate and scouts wondered if it would all click at the next level. Still, most would admit, the ceiling was huge. The result, despite injury, is your 2020 Rookie of the Year.
Seemingly every year, you can pick out a guy labeled as “immense potential” but falls for one reason or another.
In 2013 it was Aaron Judge. Again, hit tool and big-body concerns. He fell to pick no. 32.
In 2012 it was Joey Gallo. Hit tool concerns, but immense potential. He fell to pick no. 39.
The list goes on.
Christian Yelich in 2010. Sublime hitter, great body. Yet to impact the ball. Flat swing. Fell to pick no. 23.
And of course, lest we forget, Michael Nelson Trout. Limitless tools, but swing can get loopy. That, and not enough teams were able to get up to New Jersey to see him play. 24 teams elected against selecting him.
Now, this isn’t to say Montgomery is going to turn out to be any of those players, or even a fraction of any of those players. But the case has to be made for guys with outlandish abilities on and off the baseball field. Montgomery is that archetype.
We’ll get to his tools soon, but we’d be remiss not to talk about this kid’s personality as well. Not every player you speak with has an infectious energy about them, but Benny does. He’s funny, and relatable, and doesn’t try to be something he’s not. He’s humble, but confident, and brings that confidence to the field.
I spoke with Benny in July, and it was clear from the get-go he’d be a class-favorite. He likes to talk about getting hit by baseballs, losing his mitt in front of scouts and having to deal with his coach’s reaction, as well as how insane it is baseball players have been groomed to be expected to hit a 76mm piece of animal hide coming at them at 100mph.
It doesn’t stop there...
Montgomery also takes great pride in his Borat impression. Underrated, intrinsic tool for sure.
2021 OF Benny Montgomery is here to bring quirky weirdness to baseball and I am here for it pic.twitter.com/bPNLp53WCx— Lookout Landing (@LookoutLanding) September 4, 2020
With all that said, let’s talk about the player and the projectability.
Montgomery (6-4, 205) is a long, lean, angular, well-leveraged kid with plenty of physical projection remaining and a build destined to add more very good weight in the coming years. He’s got tall, wide shoulders, strong forearms on long arms, as well as long, lean legs, and a high waist. It’s an extremely athletic build that projects to age quite well. The frame reminds me of Christian Yelich at this age, though the two players are on very different trajectories at this age.
Montgomery is explosiveness personified. He’s got a ton of twitch in his game, but it’s twitch that supplements power-keg strength.
There’s not too many outfielders you’re going to find dunking a basketball between their legs at the age of 17.
Frankly, Montgomery is how you draw them up. We’ll get to the tools here shortly, but this is a premier body with premier ability and some of the best projection you can find. You’d be hard-pressed to find better clay anywhere.
TOOLS (Future Value)
The hit tool is the sole reason most prognosticators aren’t throwing Montgomery higher on their boards.
As it stands today, from what we’ve seen at showcases across the entire summer, there are concerns as to whether Montgomery will hit enough to reach his lofty ceiling. The swing mechanics put on display this summer were handsy and ‘hitchy’. There was too much drift in his hands as he gets into a loading position.
That mechanism struggled to impact the baseball against premier arms this summer.
The obscure way Montgomery went about putting himself in a position to hit drew many to throw some Hunter Pence comparisons on him. He got under the ball a lot, and had trouble timing up big velo and advanced breaking stuff.
That said, the kid has worked tirelessly this fall and winter. He’s spent most of his development time in the cages with Casey Smith, DJ LeMahieu’s personal hitting coach down in Alabama. The results, at least in simulated cage environments, have been very encouraging.
OF Benny Montgomery fought skeptics this Summer who viewed the hitch in his swing as a major red flag/detractor. Folks questioned the future hit tool.— Joe (@JoeDoyleMiLB) December 16, 2020
That said, the swing is really coming along. Looks great. Bring this to the field in the Spring, good shot he's a first rounder. pic.twitter.com/Ls8u3G6Ca1
The jury is still out on whether Montgomery will be able to dissolve his previously engrained muscle memories and drive this operation home in-game this spring. The growth is clear and evident. As the tweet says, if this hitting motion comes to the field consistently in 2021, Montgomery likely solidifies himself a first rounder. Moreover, if it produces loud, consistent batting practice sessions and impressive in-game showcases performances, he could lock himself in as the first prep outfielder off the board.
Montgomery is an unfinished product. His hit tool could end up two full grades higher than this. But that’s why a team has to trust their player development staff’s plan to get him in the right position to succeed. As it stands, given what we saw this fall, it’s hard to project anything much higher than a .250 hitter at the big league level, but that comes with the enormous caveat of waiting to see what happens this spring.
Montgomery oozes power.
In September, he won the Perfect Game All-America Game Home Run Derby, beating out the likes of Ian Moller, Joshua Baez, Max McGwire and Tommy White, among others.
That performance was no fluke.
Montgomery has shown the ability to generate an exit velocity of 104 mph off a tee. That, better than any other player in the entire class.
During the Baseball Factory All-America Classic, Montgomery was peppering soft-toss batting practice balls over the fence with exit velos exceeding 107 mph.
According to Diamond Kinetics, Montgomery’s peak barrel speed of 84.8 mph is also the best in the entire class. In case you’re wondering if he was gaming the system with a lighter bat, Montgomery also tops the class with an impact momentum score of 32.96. This is the momentum your bat has at impact. It’s is a combination of the barrel speed and the weight of the bat.
The kid is strong as hell and does twitchy things with his body unlike other athletes.
1️⃣0️⃣4️⃣ Exit Velo— Diamond Kinetics (@DiamondKinetics) September 4, 2020
Easy to see why @benny_mont is a member of the DK Elite Hitters Club#PGAAC pic.twitter.com/Pku0NkJg6s
It should be noted, this is a controlled environment. It’s off a tee in an “everything you’ve got” hack. It’s not a game swing. It’s not all that usable. But what it does show is what the body is capable of. All this merely shows is Montgomery can swing harder and hit a ball harder than anyone in the class, all things being equal.
A 55 grade may be selling Montgomery short. I think this is real, double-plus raw power, with the present limitation of he getting to that in-game. It’s a projection based on his swing and the adjustments that will be necessary to get to it in a usable manner.
The swing can get flat, but some of that hails from the hand drift/hitch we talked about earlier. The improved swing from this fall/winter quells some of those concerns -- again, so long as he can get to it in-game.
With the necessary adjustments and expected improvements to come from developing in a big league system, 25+ home run production is within reach, but there’s more in the tank if he can unlock it.
Montgomery is one of the fastest players in the entire class, full stop. It’s usable speed that only figures to age well as he continues to climb the ranks in professional ball. His lean frame, long legs and long stride will not only play well on the base paths, but should allow him the opportunity to stick in centerfield long-term.
Montgomery posted a 6.32 60-yard dash this summer, registered by Perfect Game. That is a tick under an elite, 80-grade runner. I would expect he puts on another 10 to 15 pounds of muscle before debuting, and at 6-foot-4, I’m hesitant to slap an elite grade on his future projection.
Either way, whether double-plus or elite, Montgomery is going to be a hellcat on the bases and getting to balls in the gap. It’s not out of the question he steals 30 bags per year.
Montgomery’s game in the field is certainly buoyed a touch by his incredible foot-speed. The sheer ability to track down most balls in the gap make him an ideal fit in centerfield. Where he must continue to improve is his route running. This will come with time and repetition.
Montgomery is sure-handed and displays all the fundamentals necessary to succeed. He can get a little out from under himself when charging on balls in front of him, but that’s probably a product of wanting to show off his ability with his legs.
All in all, Montgomery probably has fairly average defensive instincts as a centerfielder, with the benefit of real speed. He’ll be an above average defender.
Another double-plus grade. Incredibly rare.
Montgomery once again tops the class in the arm strength category, having clocked a 97mph seed at the Perfect Game National Showcase.
Benny does have the tendency to go full gas, no brakes at times. I’ve seen him airmail two balls over the catcher, into the back-netting, as well as sail another ball over the third baseman and into the opposing dugout. The arm strength is undeniably there. And the throws are generally on-line. They don’t tail up the line or anything. But he does need to be reined in at times.
Benny Montgomery is one of the best power-speed threats in this years class. The physical skills mirror those of Adell four years ago. Montgomery is a sure-fire top ten talent in terms of raw tools, though his hit-ability this spring will likely determine how high his stock can soar.
The ceiling here is a top ten pick with the floor likely being out of reach for Seattle at pick no. 47. If the hit tool really shows out this spring, Montgomery would be the perfect type of project for the Mariners player development staff to sink their teeth into assuming they have the confidence to optimize what’s possible with this kid.
There’s very real superstar potential here, but whomever drafts Montgomery must have conviction and a plan.