Martin Griff

Jordan Montgomery had a real breakout season in 2016 but there's still a considerable ceiling left to be tapped.

Left-hander Jordan Montgomery had the kind of breakout season in 2016 many team insiders believed he was capable of having, posting a combined 14-5 record with a 2.13 ERA and climbing all the way to Triple-A. What's scary for opposing batters, however, is he still hasn't come close to reaching his peak yet.

He followed up his more than solid first full season in 2015 that saw him post a combined 2.95 ERA between two A-ball clubs with nearly a strikeout per inning pitched with an even better season in 2016.  Included in his gaudy numbers was a very stingy 0.97 ERA in six Triple-A starts at the end of the season.

"I had a good year," Montgomery humbly said.  "I'm excited about it.  Hopefully I can repeat or do [even] better next year.

"That's what I was going for.  I'm always going for the good year, below a 3.00 ERA and more strikeouts than innings [pitched].  I was close to more strikeouts than innings this year.  Maybe next year I'll do it."

In a year that saw a number of improvements on many fronts, Montgomery can nail down the essential major foundation improvement in his game.

"My delivery," he said.  "I use my legs a lot more consistently which has allowed my fastball velo to go up so when I missed a spot every now and then I'd get away with it more often just because it was 94 mph instead of 89 [mph].  I think that helped a lot.

"My changeup was as good as it's always been and both my curveball and slider got a lot better.  It was just cool getting better and seeing the hard work pay off."

You name it and it improved in 2016, especially stuff-wise.  However, known more as a command pitcher in his college days, even his command and control improved this year too.

"I've always had command though.  I had to rely on that a lot but when you get to pro ball you lock in on it even more because hitters will hurt you on your mistakes," he said.  "I learned that early in Charleston, that you can't miss.

"I'm just trying to treat every pitch like it's the one that changes the game.  If you do that over the game then all the sudden it's the 7th inning and you're out [of the game unscathed]."

It's true that the command is better than ever but so is his velocity, and the importance of that latter point can't be overstated.  Hitting the mid-90s now makes everything much more effective.  However, known as a fastball-changeup guy for years, it's the rapid development of his still-growing breaking arsenal that arguably made the biggest difference this season.

"I've been throwing the curveball my whole life.  It was good in high school but I kind of got away from it in college and threw my changeup more.  The slider is going to help me a lot against lefties and back-foot righties; I think that's a pitch that is really going to help me to a new level and kind of up my game that much more.  They're both huge for me though.

"The curveball, I can steal strikes, change eye levels, and that makes my high fastball play.  The slider is more for -- I throw inside so much that I can now back-foot righties so it gives me something else to go to instead of just my changeup."

The once two-pitch hurler now has one of the deepest repertoires in all of minor league baseball and that ever-growing confidence in all of his pitches is starting to show up routinely in box scores, and ironically getting better the higher he climbs the minor league ladder.

"I took a lot of pressure off of myself in Scranton [saying] 'I'm here now, the last stop in minor league ball, so just have fun'.  I remember thinking one day in the car 'over-thinking [on the mound] isn't going to help' so I just started filling the zone up and if I missed it wasn't going to be where it could hurt me.  I just went after the guys and just stayed in attack mode.  It worked and I went on that [scoreless] streak."

His season was so good in 2016 that it's hard to pinpoint what he can exactly do for an encore in 2017 and beyond.  He lists a big jump in innings as the one statistical area that could use some improvement [he threw 139.1 innings this year] next year but it's kind of tough given just how quickly the former fourth round pick in 2014 has risen through the minor league ranks.

"I knew coming out of school that I was going to move quick because I felt like [The University of] South Carolina was like three years of minor league baseball," he said.  "It really prepared me for my first pro year and definitely my first full season.  I moved a bit faster than I thought I would but nobody wants to stay in the minor leagues so I want to get out of there as fast as possible."

While he knew he could move quickly given his overall feel for pitching, what he didn't expect was the rather quick transformation of his stuff over the past two years.  All of his pitches have gotten better and in his opinion all of them still have considerable room for improvement going forward too.

"I'm still growing into my body and I keep getting stronger every year.  I haven't filled out yet still.  Honestly, there's a lot more room for weight to be put on and I think over the years I'm going to keep getting bigger and stronger.  Who knows, I could be throwing even harder next year or years after that.

"I'm only 23 [years old].  I haven't reached my peak.  Heck, I don't think I'm even close to my peak yet so it's exciting to see what's happening now and what could happen [down the road].  I'm just trying to go out there, change speeds, get outs, and mess up the hitters' timing the best I can."

As good as he has been recently, the prospect of continually getting better is very appealing to Montgomery but he also is guarded against too much excitement; he wants to stay within himself.

"It's exciting but I also don't want to lose focus on what I've been doing.  I'm never going to pitch like a power pitcher.  I'd rather be the guy that's moving it.  My stuff's good right now.  I'm happy with it but I'm going to keep growing," he concluded.

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