What makes Montes de Oca's decision interesting is that he fell to the White Sox in the 14th round of the 2014 First-Year Player Draft on Saturday. It's rare for an 18-year-old who consistently throws in the mid-90s to make it through the first two rounds without getting selected, let alone 13 rounds. But teams were scared off by Montes de Oca's reconstructed elbow.
Montes de Oca can afford to ask for a lot of money from the White Sox -- he has the leverage with a scholarship from the University of Missouri in his back pocket. Everything hinges on whether Montes de Oca, from Lawrence High School in Kansas, decides it's best to take the money now or to honor his commitment and develop at Missouri for three years.
"When you see a guy that talented taken that low, he's almost never going to be signable," MLB.com Draft expert Jim Callis wrote in an email. "I believe Montes de Oca was looking for a seven-figure bonus, and it's hard to scrape up that kind of money in the 14th round with the bonus rules being what they are. I think he's headed to Missouri."
Montes de Oca opened eyes as a rising junior at Perfect Game's World Wood Bat Association World Championships in the fall of 2012, but he blew out his elbow the following spring. He had Tommy John surgery, eliminating his junior year.
"Quite honestly, it's a little too early in the process for us to sit down and see exactly what we're going to have available," said Doug Laumann, White Sox director of amateur scouting. "It's going to be a challenging situation to get him signed, but at the same time, we wanted to have him there just in case we do have the finances after we add up all the numbers and add up our pool and see what's left. We'll certainly make a run at it."
Montes de Oca said his arm is back to full strength, and he has "nothing to complain about physically." It showed immediately upon his return to the mound. Montes de Oca threw 35 pitches on April 11 -- the one-year anniversary of his elbow surgery. All 35 pitches were fastballs, and all were clocked from 94-97 mph with sink and tail.
"The worst part was the rehab, just not being able to play," said the powerful 6-foot-7, 265-pound righty. "But the rehab itself, we were diligent with it, it went well. When I got back, I had expectations myself to throw within a year. I met that by one day, and when I started throwing, I kind of didn't expect what I saw, so I was very happy about that."
Montes de Oca continually increased his pitch count after the April 11 start, reaching 78 pitches in his final outing of the year while feeling like he could have thrown more. The fastball is the pitch that had scouts tripping over each other to see, but what about his secondary pitches?
Per MLB.com's scouting report, Montes de Oca features an 11-to-5 curveball as well as a changeup, but both pitches need work.
"Both pitches are still inconsistent, which would be expected considering his injury," Callis said. "He'll show some power and depth on his curveball, and some scouts think he'll be better off using a slider. He has some feel for a changeup, but hasn't had to use it much, so it's very raw."
One likely reason the White Sox selected Montes de Oca is because of the confidence they have in their player development staff. They have a proven track record of developing young arms into Major League-caliber hurlers. Chicago can make a well-supported pitch to Montes de Oca: We can develop you better and faster than Missouri, and we have the evidence to prove it.
Should Montes de Oca turn pro, Laumann would view his slide to the 14th round as a gift.
"Yeah, I think so. ... It's far from a finished product, but when you get a kid like that, also when you're dealing with the injuries, stuff like that," Laumann said. "But that's kind of been our philosophy with big, strong power-arm guys, and he certainly fit that mold for us."
What will Montes de Oca decide? Some would say he should take the money while he can get it. Though he's back to full health and scouts don't have any concerns over his durability, reconstructed elbows "don't come with a lifetime guarantee," as Callis put it. Others would advise Montes de Oca to go to college to develop and set himself up for a higher Draft selection -- and thus more money -- three years from now.
Whichever way he decides to go, Montes de Oca is betting on himself to succeed.
"It's a wonderful situation to be put in. Tons of people wish they could have had this opportunity," he said. "What I'm going to do is just weigh the options. Either one, I'm sure I'll excel."