Rockies Journal: Elehuris Montero emerges as late-season surprise

Elehuris Montero is proving me wrong.

I was beginning to have doubts that the Rockies’ first baseman would ever make it in the big leagues. I was starting to believe he was a Quadruple-A player who would fade away and become a footnote in the trade that sent Nolan Arenado to the Cardinals.

It was already clear that Montero wasn’t going to make it as a third baseman and his play at first was sketchy. His at-bats were painful to watch.

True, he shredded minor league pitching when he had two stints at Triple-A Albuquerque earlier in the season, hitting .359 with a 1.129 OPS and 15 homers in just 35 games.

Yes, Montero, at 6-foot-3, 235 pounds, is a powerhouse, but major league pitchers made him look helpless when they started feeding him a steady diet of down-and-away breaking balls.

When he whiffed four times in an Aug. 7 game at Milwaukee, his average was down to .197 and his strikeout rate was up to 40%. Montero’s confidence was shaken.

But a remarkable thing has happened. He won Friday night’s wild game against the Giants at Coors Field with a ninth-inning single. The 25-year-old Montero has reached base in a career-best 22 consecutive games, the longest active streak in the National League. It’s the longest streak by a Rockies player under age 26 since Arenado reached base in 30 consecutive games from April 9 to May 10, 2014.

Montero hasn’t just been getting on base, he’s been ripping big-league pitching, slashing .375/.452/.611 with three homers, six doubles, one triple and 12 RBIs. His strikeout rate during the streak is a much-improved 25.8%.

“The numbers speak for themselves,” manager Bud Black said after Montero launched a two-run homer while hitting out of the cleanup spot in Colorado’s victory over the Cubs on Wednesday.

“The bat speed is there. He’s laying off the borderline breaking ball down and away a little bit more. We’ve seen it a couples times (in) this series. Getting his pitch, not fouling it off, squaring it up and putting it in play. He’s got power. He’s got strength. It’s all-field hitting. He’s in a good spot.”

Montero, quiet by nature, said he’s always believed in himself but was in need of some help. He found it from hitting coach Hensley “Bam Bam” Meulens.

“We made a simple adjustments with his hands,” Meulens said. “Prior to this hot streak, he was bringing the bat way behind his head. He’s made an adjustment to where the bat is not going all the way around anymore, so it’s more angled over his head and it’s allowed him to be more on time.”

Dropping his hand has allowed Montero to recognize pitches better, instead of swinging too early and missing.

“That’s the major thing he’s adjusted,” Meulens said. “It’s making his swing shorter to the ball. He’s able to stop now instead of diving at that pitch out of the zone.”

Both Muelens and Black caution that Montero is far from a finished product, noting that the high strikeout tendency remains. But Montero is in a much better place.

“I’m just keeping it as simple as I can,” Montero said. “So, I just keep going out and doing it.”

His glovework at first has improved, too. He looks smoother on groundballs and more comfortable chasing popups into shallow right field. He’s proved more nimble around the bag than I thought he was, and he’s made some nice scoops on balls in the dirt.

“When we were in Milwaukee, we had a big talk with the team and at that point, he was really low,” Meulens said. “But from that point on, everyone kind of wrapped their arms around him. It didn’t happen overnight and it took him a few games to feel relaxed, but now he’s in a good spot and his confidence level is rising every day.”

Montero is never going to be the next Todd Helton, but he’s earned his playing time, and the Rockies made the right call by keeping him with the big-league club and sending Michael Toglia, the club’s first-round pick in 2019, down to Triple-A.

Montero, as it turns out, has been a nice, late-blooming surprise in the Rockies’ bad season.

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