LAWRENCE, Kan. – Sometimes
you have no idea what to expect when you go to the ballpark. Such was
the case on Thursday when I took the 200 mile drive south from Omaha
to Lawrence (Kan.) High School – in the shadow of University of
Kansas – to see 6-foot-8, 270-pound righthander Bryce Montes de Oca
pitch in a 5:30 p.m. contest against Olathe South High School.
was Montes de Oca’s first time on the mound since April 4, 2013, when he tore his UCL. He underwent Tommy John surgery, performed by
then-St. Louis Cardinals team physician Dr. George Paletta, on April
11, 2013, 365 days prior to Thursday’s game. According to Montes
de Oca’s father, Ivo, it was a motivating goal of his son’s to
get back on the mound within a year of the surgery. Mark that goal
de Oca, of course, was selected to the 2013 Perfect Game All-American
Classic, one of the few players in the history of the game who was
selected with the knowledge that he would be unable to compete. He
had thrown in Jupiter, Fla., at the 2012 WWBA World Championship the
previous October for the Royals Scout Team and had sat at 93-95 mph
with a 78 mph hammer.
That was enough to convince the Perfect Game
staff that he was worthy of a spot regardless of his injury status.
Montes de Oca did travel to San Diego with his mom, Susie, and took
part in all of the Classic festivities and was dressed in uniform on
the bench with his West teammates during the game itself.
was obvious that seeing Montes de Oca’s first outing was a priority
with more than just Perfect Game, as there were already 30-plus
scouts at the field when I arrived. Presumably just about every team
had their area scout at the game.
de Oca took a comfortable warm up in the bullpen, although I’m sure
he noticed the crowd of scouts dissecting his delivery from every
angle. He then took the mound in the top of the first inning to face
his first batter in a year.
first warm up pitch registered 95 mph on the radar gun.
got everyone’s attention immediately. The scout next to me – who
I didn’t know – and I turned to each other with eye brows raised.
We might not have known what to expect when we got to the ballpark,
but we were certainly finding out quickly.
de Oca was on a 30-35 pitch limit and was understandably wild at the
start, missing consistently up to his arm side and getting in trouble
with a couple of walks, a bunt single and a hit-by-pitch, eventually
leading to a pair of first inning runs. He came back for the start
of the second inning and struck out the first batter on a trio of
well-placed fastballs down in the zone before being removed.
fastball ranged from 94-97 mph, with a couple of 93’s late, and 96
was the most common number over the first 20 pitches. He threw one
curveball from the mound warming up at 76 mph with good 11-to-5 spin
and depth but didn’t throw it to hitters. He also attempted a
couple of 87 mph changeups without much success.
de Oca’s velocity was positively stunning, though, especially taken
in context of his injury timeline. Not only was it consistent, it
came easily and with little effort from a very repeatable delivery
that is very simple in its overall mechanics.
Kansas City Royals righthander Sean Sedlacek has worked as Montes de
Oca’s pitching coach and baseball mentor the past three years and
was at the game to watch his protégé throw. Sedlacek, who played
with PG’s Ben Ford at Indian Hills Junior College and was recruited
by PG President Jerry Ford at Iowa Wesleyan, gave some background on
Montes de Oca’s mechanics.
Bryce and I stared working together about three years ago, he was
very rotational in his delivery, getting out front early and flying
open with his front side,” Sedlacek said. “We’ve worked hard to
get him to stay over the rubber as long as possible and keep all that
weight back and his front side closed. He’s done a great job of
honestly had no idea how hard he was going to throw,” Ivo Montes de
Oca said in surprise when told of his son's velocity. “To my
knowledge there hasn’t been a single radar gun pointed at him up to
now. I was hoping he’d throw 91-92 and be healthy and happy and
Montes de Oca, whose surname roughly translates to “Mountain of
Geese” in Spanish, was born in Cuba and is a strongly built
6-foot-1 man, although it remains unclear where Bryce got his
'mountainous' stature from.
really have no idea,” Susie Montes de Oca said when asked where
Bryce's size came from. “Ivo doesn’t know much about his extended
family back in Cuba, and while I have one grandfather who was
6-foot-5, there’s no one else exceptionally (tall) on my side.”
size gave Bryce a natural advantage in almost every sport he played,
but baseball has always been his passion. He gave up football in the
sixth grade, and basketball during his sophomore season when he was
developing more interest in pitching. Baseball has been his focus
Lawrence football coach is a good friend, he understands,” Ivo
said. “He’s been a baseball player since the beginning.”
would be premature to completely speculate on what Montes de Oca’s
initial outing will do to his draft stock come June 5-7, except to
state the obvious that his stock has gone from non-existent to “WOW!”
Only Tyler Kolek, a presumptive top 5 pick, has shown the ability to
consistently show that type of velocity in the already hard throwing
2014 high school class.
Montes de Oca will have to start showing his
secondary pitches over the next 7-8 weeks, plus an improved feel for
the strike zone, but one has to believe that as he gets stronger the
already eye opening velocity will ramp up a bit. And, of course, all
30 teams will have to evaluate the medicals that the family has
important test might be coming soon. Lawrence High School and Lee’s
Summit High School, home of fellow PG All-American Monte Harrison,
will be playing in the same tournament in Kansas City April 24-26.
Montes de Oca and Harrison have been texting back and forth keeping
each other up to date with hopes of facing each other. The
predominantly area scout crowd at Lawrence Thursday will be replaced
by national cross-checkers and scouting directors should they indeed
fact that the younger Montes de Oca had the opportunity to
participate in the Classic with Harrison has left a lasting
impression on the family.
and the whole family are so grateful for what Perfect Game did in
asking Bryce to be an All-American and flying him to San Diego,”
Ivo Montes de Oca said, summing up the emotions from the day. “It
came at such a difficult time for him and carried him for months
afterwards while he was rehabbing. It was a class act that we will
always cherish and remember.”