7/21/16 --- Following their 6-2 victory over the Mets yesterday, the Cubs dealt slugging 1B/DH prospect Daniel Vogelbach and RHP Paul Blackburn to the Seattle Mariners in exchange for lefty-reliever Mike Montgomery and Triple-A righty Jordan Pries. The move marks the first from Theo and Co. since they re-acquired outfielder Chris Coghlan from the Oakland A’s in early June. While this wasn’t the first trade of the year and won’t be the last, it’s a solid move to solidify the bullpen and bulk up on lefties, especially considering early struggles from Clayton Richards and an already tiresome year for Travis Wood.
Montgomery, 27, was drafted back in 2008 in the first-round by the Kansas City Royals, and eventually made his way down to Tampa Bay’s farm system, the former home of current Cubs manager Joe Maddon.
Spending his year exclusively as a starter in Seattle’s rotation last year, Montgomery posted some very respectable numbers, including a 1.62 ERA through his first six big-league starts. Eventually he tapered off at the end of the season, posting a 9.62 ERA over 19.1 innings in the month August.
However, he’s followed up a disappointing finish to 2016 with an impressive stretch here in 2016. So far this year, Montgomery has pitched in 61.2 innings, allowing 49 hits and just 16 earned runs. Upon making the jump to the ‘pen this year, he’s seen his strikeouts go up and his walks go down, a positive sign. He’s also posted a well-above league-average ERA+ (ERA adjusted for the player’s ballpark), at 174. In more relief outings than the coveted NYY reliever Andrew Miller, Montgomery has allowed fewer homers and fewer hits per 9 innings than Miller has, even though he may not possess the ability to strikeout as many as Miller. Epstein noted that Montgomery commands a good heater, along with two above-average secondary pitches, a slider and curveball. Montgomery continues to work on developing a cutter to add to an already superb selection of pitches.
The other pitcher acquired in this trade, Jordan Pries, will be starting in Triple-A Iowa, according to Theo Epstein. Epstein also noted that Pries “can protect our rotation,” eluding to the fact that the 26-year-old has thrown 66.1 IP this year as a starter, striking out 8.4 over 9 innings with a 4.34 ERA. In July, though, Pries has allowed just 4 ER and a .235 opponent BA in his 18 innings pitched. It isn’t out of the picture for Pries to get a spot start later this year, especially if current back-ups Adam Warren and Mike Montgomery are plagued with an injury or a bad second-half.
Unfortunately, to acquire the services of Montgomery and Pries the Cubs were forced to part with the greatest Cubs slugger to never have worn a Chicago Cubs uniform: Dan Vogelbach. Drafted a few years ago, Vogelbach has done nothing less than rake down in the minors, hitting double-digit homers every year in the Cubs system except for last year (when he played just under 80 games due to an injury). Although many Cubs fans may be sad to see him go (I know I am) Vogelbach now has the opportunity to play in a league where he doesn’t need to play defense – a league designed for Dan Vogelbach. The bulky, teddy bear-like Vogelbach was blocked at first base by Anthony Rizzo and lacked the defensive prowess or raw athleticism that could have allowed him to move to left field. Seattle General Manager Jerry Dipoto was excited about what Dan adds to the future roster for the Mariners, but wouldn’t give a definite timetable on when he might make his ML debut. Whenever that is, lookout American League pitchers, because Seattle may just have the next Cecil or Prince Fielder on their hands.
Along with Vogelbach, the Cubs also shipped off 2012 first-rounder Paul Blackburn. In 78 minor league games started Blackburn has pitched to the tune of 3.21 career ERA, reaching Double-A Tennessee with the Cubs this year. There have always been concerns about Blackburn staying in the rotation, mostly due to his thin frame. However, after filling out nicely this year, at the age of 22, Blackburn seems primed to crack the majors as a back-end starter or solid reliever. Although he may be a year or two away, he should be a productive piece for the Mariners pitching staff.
As the Cubs continue to look for bullpen and starting rotation help in the upcoming weeks, they can at least say that they’ve brought in some reinforcement for Travis Wood down the stretch. Looking beyond this year (as Theo and Jed always are), Montgomery may begin to look like more of a bargain than we thought. Still young and with 5 years of team control left, he has yet to fully reach his potential, according to Epstein.
Let’s just hope that Montgomery’s future success isn’t dampened too much by Dan Vogelbach home runs.
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