If you're the kind of person who likes to say "I met him before he was a big league star," Saturday might a last chance to do so with Mark Montgomery. He'll be at the I Am Champion Agility Endurance Performance Training Center in Poquoson to meet fans and sign autographs.
Next month he'll head to Tampa, Fla., where he'll prepare for spring training with the New York Yankees. Some consider Montgomery, a former Bruton High and Longwood University standout, the organization's top relief pitching prospect.
And whether he starts the season at Yankee Stadium in the Bronx or in AAA at Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, it appears to be a matter of how soon, not if, he'll make his major-league debut. Bernie Pleskoff of yankees.com echoes others when he says that Montgomery could become a late-inning reliever for the Yanks this season because of difficult-to-hit slider.
It's the kind of talk Montgomery, 22, takes with a grain of salt.
"A lot of people are saying that," Montgomery said. "I can't get to wrapped up in all of that.
"I've got to take the mindset that I'll work hard every day to prove something to them. The New York Yankees know what they're doing and, God willing, they'll put me in the best place.
"I'm in good position to start in AAA, but I'll work hard and do my best wherever I am."
Montgomery can afford to be patient as he continues a rise toward the majors inconceivable four years ago. When he signed with Longwood out of Bruton in 2008, he was recruited as a shortstop, not a pitcher.
"Then they figured out I can't swing the bat," he joked.
Instead his pitching potential surfaced in a few relief appearances late in his freshman season. As he began adding weight (40 pounds since graduating from Bruton) and muscle to his frame, the fastball that peaked at 86 mph in high school began crossing the plate consistently in the low 90s.
And Montgomery, a fastball/curveball pitcher in high school, began toying with the slider as he found a grip and arm slot that worked for him. That pitch led to pitching stardom at Longwood the next two seasons — including 14.2 strikeouts per nine innings as a junior — and since he was selected by the Yankees in the 11th round of the 2011 draft.
After striking out the side in three consecutive appearances for the Yankees short season rookie-league team, he struck out five batters in one inning — yes, five — in his debut for Low-Class A Charleston.
He started out with High-A Tampa in 2012, but was so dominant he was promoted to AA Trenton. His full season stats for both included a 7-2 record, 15 saves, a 1.54 ERA, 4.9 hits and 13.8 strikeouts per nine innings.
In November, Montgomery struck out the side in the Arizona Fall League's Rising Stars Game. Afterward, Mike Rosenbaum, the lead writer for Bleacher Reports MLB Prospects, penned an article titled "Is Mark Montgomery the Heir to Mariano Rivera's Closer Throne?"
"It definitely motivates you to work your tail off when people think you have what it takes," Montgomery said of making the majors.
So he continues to be the workout fanatic he long has been. He trains three or four times a week at I Am Champion because he goes often to Poquoson to throw with his youth travel coach, Chris Pinder.
Chris' son, Virginia Tech third baseman Chad Pinder, whose draft stock is rising, and Virginia pitcher Kyle Crockett, fresh off a successful summer in the famed Cape Cod League, are among his workout partners. Craig Zimmerman, an ex-Marine and former Tabb High baseball standout who owns I Am Champion, is happy to have Montgomery and the others as regulars.
"It shows the younger players what is possible with hard work," said Zimmerman, who brought the Poquoson High JV baseball team to the gym meet Montgomery this week. "There have been a lot of players to make it big in baseball from Hampton Roads recently, but when is the last time someone made it from this side of the water?"
Montgomery remains humble amid the prospect that he could be on the cusp of stardom. Humble enough that he's excited about Saturday's meet and greet.
"I've done two or three of these," he said of the autograph session. "Hopefully there are a lot more to come."
WHAT: Montgomery, a top relief pitching prospect in the New York Yankees organization, will greet fans and sign autographs.
WHEN: 10-11 a.m. Saturday.
WHERE: I Am Champion, 423E Wythe Creek Road, Food Lion Shopping Center, Poquoson.
NOTEWORTHY: Event is free to the public, but donations will be accepted to benefit dugout expansion and batting practice cage for Poquoson High baseball program. For more information call 757-659-0646 or go to http://www.zchamp.com.Copyright © 2015, CT Now