Detroit Tigers prospect Keider Montero has elite curveball spin, but what is he missing?

Detroit Free Press

LAKELAND, Fla. — Keider Montero looked up and smiled.

He was thinking about the spin rate when he throws his curveball, one of his biggest strengths as a 21-year-old pitching prospect for the Detroit Tigers. The Venezuelan right-hander also boasts a strong arm and throws strikes.

But the curveball, with 3,200 revolutions per minute, is his specialty.

A spin rate over 3,000 rpm is considered elite.

“I know,” Montero said, his only words in English.

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The Tigers signed Montero out of Venezuela for $40,000 in August 2016. He spent the 2021 season in High-A West Michigan, posting a 5.28 ERA with 19 walks and 59 strikeouts in 61⅓ innings across 15 starts.

“He struggled a bit last year with some of his command and wasn’t getting into great counts,” 23-year-old catcher Cooper Johnson said. “But he has as good of stuff as I’ve caught of anyone in this organization. He’s got a three-pitch mix that can be three plus pitches for him.”

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Entering 2021, Montero hadn’t played organized baseball since 2019 in the now-extinct Short-Season A New York–Penn League. He had a 2.55 ERA with five walks and 26 strikeouts in five starts for the Connecticut Tigers that season.

The COVID-19 pandemic canceled the minor leagues in 2020, and after 15 starts for the Whitecaps in 2021, Montero landed on the injured list in August with right forearm tendinitis. He felt arm discomfort during his final two starts, in which he allowed eight runs over three innings.

Montero missed the rest of the season.

“Mentally, I handled it the best I could,” Montero said through a team interpreter. “I don’t control those things, but I believe the time of God is perfect, and I have my head up for what’s coming this year. … I thought I was in the best moment of my career (last season). I will get back to that this season.”

Montero also has a fastball and changeup to go with his curve.

His fastball averages 94-95 mph, and he can run it up to 97 mph. His curve sits around 78-82 mph and features sharp horizontal break.

“My favorite pitch is the curveball,” Montero said. “I believe I have a high level of control. Same thing with the fastball. I believe the changeup is the pitch I have to work on more because I want to make my changeup as good as my curveball and fastball.”

Advancing the changeup could work wonders for his arsenal.

“When I master the changeup, I will add a pitch that will help me go through five, six innings as the starting pitcher that I am,” Montero said. “I need a variety of pitches if I want to reach that point to be useful for the team for five, six innings.”

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Montero always knew his curveball had above-average spin, but he didn’t know the metrics until his coaches informed him last season.

A feeling of joy overwhelmed Montero upon learning the spin rate of his curve.

“He’s super advanced because he’s not really an old kid,” Johnson said. “He’s got such great feel to land that (curveball) early and late in counts, which is hard for big leaguers to do sometimes. To do that at 21 years old is putting you heads above everyone else.”

In 2021, Montero posted a 20.3% strikeout rate and 6.6% walk rate.

He throws strikes, but his opponents hit .319 and produced a .394 batting average on balls in play — each career worsts for Montero, who also had a career-worst 4.44 FIP. (Fielding Independent Pitching is a metric which removes results on balls in play and focuses solely on the pitcher’s controllable outcomes: strikeouts, unintentional walks, hit-by-pitches and home runs.)

Montero will benefit from improving the sequencing of his pitches and learning how to apply his weapons in the strike zone, which, in theory, should lead to more strikeouts. Adding a slider to his arsenal could help, too, as well as discovering the best way to utilize his fastball.

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Remember, Montero is in the early stages of his development.

But with his top-tier curveball spin, high velocity and the ability to stay within the strike zone, there’s a solid foundation for the Tigers’ new player development staff to work with.

“I’m going to keep working hard,” Montero said. “At the end of the day, I have my goals to play and perform with whatever the team is asking from me. I will work hard. It doesn’t matter where (the Tigers) put me.”

Contact Evan Petzold at epetzold@freepress.com or follow him on Twitter @EvanPetzold. Read more on the Detroit Tigers and sign up for our Tigers newsletter.

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