If Charleston RiverDogs pitcher Jordan Montgomery ever gets a little homesick during his first full season of professional baseball, he won’t have too far to travel to see his family.
Montgomery grew up in Sumter, earning the state’s player of the year honor during his senior season, and then burst onto the national stage as the staff’s ace at the University of South Carolina.
Montgomery even threw a couple of innings at Riley Park against The Citadel during his freshman season with the Gamecocks,
The 22-year-old is happy that he’ll begin his pro career in familiar surroundings. The RiverDogs open the 2015 season Thursday night against the Lexington Legends beginning at 7 p.m. at Riley Park.
“It feels great to be back in South Carolina and be in a place that I know a little bit,” Montgomery said. “Charleston is obviously a great spot to start my career with the Yankees. It’s a great city. I know my parents will come down to see me pitch.”
Having already made a name for himself with the Gamecocks, Montgomery isn’t worried about any added expectations pitching in his home state.
Montgomery played three seasons for the Gamecocks, compiling a 20-7 mark with a 2.87 earned run average in 253.2 innings. At Sumter High School, he was the 2011 Gatorade Player of the Year and was named to the USA Today All-American team. During his senior season, he was 11-0 with a 0.38 ERA. He struck out 114 batters in just 74 innings of work.
“To be honest, I think it makes is easier for me to be down in Charleston,” Montgomery said. “I pitched in Columbia for three years, so I’m used to fans. I like that I’m not that far from home.”
Montgomery can still remember pitching in Riley Park against the Bulldogs.
“I was a freshman, so they pulled me after a couple of innings,” Montgomery said. “I like this park. It’s a great location and the fans here are like their baseball.”
After working his way into the Gamecocks starting rotation, Montgomery became South Carolina’s No. 1 starter during his sophomore and junior seasons.
Playing in the College World Series, facing Southeastern Conference hitters and playing in sold out stadiums will only help Montgomery as he makes this way through the Yankees farm system.
“Jordan has pitched on some pretty big stages during his college career, so I think that’s a plus moving forward,” said RiverDogs pitching coach Tim Norton. “He’s not going to get nervous, he’s going to embrace those big moments and that’s only going to help him as he moves up the ladder.”
The Yankees selected Montgomery in the fourth round with the 122nd overall pick. After signing with the Yankees for $424,000 last summer, he split last season with Staten Island and Gulf Coast. He went 1-1 with a 3.79 ERA across 19.0 innings in 10 games.
“It was a long college season and they didn’t want me to throw a lot of innings last summer,” Montgomery said.
The 6-4, 225-pound left-hander is expected to be a No. 3 or No. 4 starter for the Yankees one day. His change-up is legendary in the college ranks, but his fastball has been consistently clocked in the low 90s mph during spring training.
“Jordan does have an excellent change-up, but he’s got a lot more than just a good change-up,” Norton said. “He can move his fastball up and down and in and out and he’s got a twelve-six curveball and a cutter. He’s got three or four pitches he can throw for strikes. He’s a mature kid.”
Montgomery already knows one familiar face within the Yankees farm system — former South Carolina left-handed pitcher Tyler Webb, who is currently assigned to the Yankees Triple-A affiliate in Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. Webb, 24, was drafted in the 10th round in 2013.
“We were pretty good friends at South Carolina, so it’s great to have him in the same organization,” Montgomery said. “Hopefully, one day soon, we’ll be able to play on the same team again. That’ll be a fun.”