Lou Montanez, the third overall pick in the 2000 First-Year Player Draft, joined the Orioles for a long-awaited callup Tuesday after the Orioles placed center fielder Adam Jones on the 15-day disabled list. Montanez, who was leading the Double-A Eastern League in all three Triple Crown categories, seemed thrilled to finally have made the big league leap.
"It feels great. I'm trying to still soak it all in," he said in the hours before Tuesday's game. "It hits you at different times, with different experiences -- meeting different guys, taking my first [batting practice]. Obviously, it feels great that I finally got here. It's a goal that you put for yourself, and it happened. And that's pretty rare sometimes in people's lives."
Montanez, who was originally drafted as a shortstop, has come a long way to develop his talent. The right-handed-hitter struggled through the Minor Leagues with the Cubs before signing with the Orioles last year as a Minor League free agent, and he's already hit more home runs (26) this season than he has in any other two years combined.
The 26-year-old doesn't really have an explanation for his power surge except to say that he's been healthy and gotten a chance to play every day. And now, he's ready to test himself against the world's best pitchers.
"I'm just a little more mature physically, and that always helps your power numbers," he said. "It's a lot of perseverance throughout the years. That counts for a lot, [and] it makes you appreciate it a lot more. I can say I earned it this time around. It wasn't really being a high Draft pick or money. This time I kind of willed myself up here and forced the issue."
Indeed he did, forcing Baltimore's hand by batting .335 with 97 RBIs for Double-A Bowie. Montanez had a feeling something might be up Monday, when he saw some familiar faces in the stands. Andy MacPhail, Baltimore's vice president of baseball operations, and Dave Stockstill, the director of player development, were on hand to watch him play.
"I knew MacPhail and Stockstill were at the game yesterday in Bowie, so everybody was walking on eggshells," he said. "They took me out in the third inning, and I actually saw MacPhail when he went to the phone. I said, 'Something's going on.' Then I got taken out of the game and thought, 'They're not taking me out of the game to promote me to Triple-A.' "
Montanez got the news a little while later, but not in time to inform his family and friends. He said that by the time he got to his phone, he already had congratulatory messages from people in Miami. And when he joined his new teammates in Anaheim, he said his comfort level was enhanced by knowing several people from his tenure with the Cubs.
"It always helps seeing familiar faces," said Montanez, who played for manager Dave Trembley in the Florida State League. "It's not only Dave. It's MacPhail, Stockstill, [bullpen coach Alan] Dunn, [pitching coach Rick] Kranitz. Even [Chris] Waters, guys that you played with in the Minor Leagues. It makes you feel more welcome coming in and seeing those faces."
The Orioles aren't quite sure how they'll use Montanez, but he'll likely see time in left field and center field over the next few weeks. He wasn't in the lineup Tuesday, but Trembley said he'd wind up playing soon enough.
"Montanez will be used when I put him in the lineup. He'll be an outfielder, but I can't tell you when he'll play or how often he'll play," he said. "But obviously he's here as a first-time guy in the big leagues as Waters is. I'm sure they're both excited. It's an exciting time for us to be able to bring up basically two kids from the Minor Leagues to get their first taste of the big leagues. It would be to our advantage if he'd continue to do up here what he did in Bowie."
Spencer Fordin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.