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Draft : : Story

Published: Friday, April 11, 2014

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.

It 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 as accomplished.

Montes 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.

It 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.

Montes 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.

His first warm up pitch registered 95 mph on the radar gun.

That 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.

Montes 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.

His 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.

Montes 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.

Former 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.

When 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 executing it.”

We 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 nothing more.”

Ivo 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.

We 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.”

That 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 ever since.

The Lawrence football coach is a good friend, he understands,” Ivo said. “He’s been a baseball player since the beginning.”

It 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 already provided.

One 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 match up.

The 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.

Bryce 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.”

 
 
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