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February 27, 2013 at 12:54 PM

2013 Prospect Previews: Cody Kukuk and Frank Montas

Position: Pitcher
2012 Team: Gulf Coast Red Sox
2013 Projected Team: Lowell Spinners
Opening Day Age: 19

Strengths: Kukuk has an athletic frame that can add more weight as he matures, especially in his lower half. He generates easy velocity via an efficient and loose delivery, with mechanics that don’t put a lot of stress on his body. The left-hander’s fastball sits 91-93 mph, showing late, arm-side tail and downward finish. Kukuk’s heater has bat-missing ability and deception in the release causes it to jump on opposing hitters. The 19-year-old also features an 81-83 mph slider, which he shows the feel to snap off with tight rotation and tilt. This offering has the potential to develop more bite as Kukuk becomes consistent staying on top of the ball. Given the loose nature of his delivery and overall stuff, the lefty has the package to progress as a starter. There’s plenty of room for growth as the experience level builds and Kukuk learns how to master the consistency of his release point.

Development Needs: Kukuk is raw overall with his fastball command. He’s in the early stages of learning the importance of throwing to spots on both sides of the plate and executing accordingly. Presently, the heater grabs too much of the plate, while working up in the zone too often as well. Kukuk also runs into stretches of releasing the pitch too early, which causes it to sail arm-side. Both his command and control would benefit from the lefty finding consistency locking into his optimal high three-quarters release point. Most of Kukuk’s potential growth is tied to cleaning up this aspect of his game. The pitcher also possesses a changeup in the arsenal, but currently doesn’t use it all that much in sequences. When he has shown it, the offering has been telegraphed to hitters and it graded as below-average. Demonstrating trust in the pitch, along with progress improving the depth and fade created is important for him to continue to project as a starter when he reaches the upper minors.

2013 Outlook: Kukuk ran into discipline issues last season after dealing with a driving under the influence charge, of which he was eventually acquitted. He spent most of the year on the restricted list and only threw 10 innings in the GCL. The lefty essentially lost a year of development time. 2013 will serve two purposes for Kukuk: prove that his maturity issues are behind him and show that he is getting back on track baseball-wise after scouting well in the 2011 Instructional League. He is likely to stay back in Florida after the full-season teams head north and pitch the summer with the Lowell Spinners, but may have a shot at a placement in A-Ball depending on how his spring training goes. Kukuk is a name that can gain traction in 2013, especially if he shows that his mistake in judgment was just an isolated incident. I’ve been impressed with the stuff when scouting him. However, this season should give it the first test against more seasoned hitters and a firmer look on how the stuff is trending.

Position: Pitcher
2012 Teams: Gulf Coast Red Sox/Lowell Spinners
2013 Projected Team: Lowell Spinners
Opening Day Age: 20

Strengths: Montas has exceptional arm strength. The right-hander consistently cranks his fastball up to 96-98 mph in outings and can top out at 100 when reaching back. The 20-year-old incorporates his lower body well into the delivery to drive hard when finishing and create relatively easy velocity. Montas’ fastball is explosive. The offering shows plenty of late life and he can flat out beat opposing hitters when he elevates it in the zone. While the pitch can be straight at times, he’s improved with staying on top of the ball over the course of the last year. The heater has the potential to be an elite pitch at the big league level. Montas has a very sturdy frame and one that can withstand the impact of pitching over the long haul of the season. The righty is well-filled out for his age. Arm strength like Montas’ does not come along all that often and there aren’t many pitchers his age who consistently show the velocity he does. Although the righty is still raw overall, he’s taken some strides forward since coming state-side and is a very intriguing arm.

Development Needs: Montas needs the most work continuing to clean up his delivery. He has a lot of body to control, which can leave him off-balance when finishing. His velocity presently masks it against young hitters, but the fastball command grades as below-average. Montas doesn’t spot his heater well in the lower tier of the strike zone due to his inability to consistently finish his delivery or pound the zone for strikes presently. It remains to be seen how much room for growth there is with his command going forward. The ability to throw more called strikes will become increasingly important with each step up the ranks as well. He is likely to hit a wall at Double-A if this aspect of his game does not improve. Montas’ secondary stuff is on the crude side. His 83-86 mph slider has the most promise, showing late bite and depth in the upper reaches of its velocity. He isn’t overly consistent snapping it off though as the offering can roll and spin flatly up to the plate. If Montas can find the appropriate angle and hard snap, the slider has the potential to be of the power variety.

2013 Outlook: Montas is an arm that is likely to get more buzz as he gets further exposure outside of the rookie leagues. It appears he’ll be on track to pitch in the New York-Penn League this summer, where he’ll continue to be ramped up into facing better competition and work on building stamina. Montas isn’t ready to assume a full workload as a starter with a full-season team. The hard-throwing right-hander’s stuff will be tested multiple times through a lineup and his ability to adjust will also be on display. While he can get away with some mistakes due to the velocity, Montas is going to be pushed to pitch more during sequences in 2013. There may be some growing pains, but steps forward can be made by season’s end. I was impressed with the overall progress Montas made when seeing him at Fall Instructs. This season will be about continuing to make steady progress and gain needed experience to get a crack at full-season ball in 2014.

Photo Credits: Frank Montas and Cody Kuku by William Parmeter

Chris Mellen is Director of Scouting for SoxProspects.com. Follow him on Twitter @ChrisMellen