Late in the 2010 season, I caught my third start of Colorado Rockies pitching prospect Tyler Matzek in Savannah against the Sand Gnats. At the time, Matzek was quietly floundering at the level, but still regarded as one of the best left-handed pitching prospects in the game. Over four innings, Matzek gave up only one run, but struggled mightily commanding a fastball which began the game touching 91 mph, but finished at 85-87 mph. It was a disappointing performance from a scouting standpoint, even though his final line was that of a pitcher who bent, but did not break.
The following evening, my concern over Matzek grew over something many would not even notice. While charting pitches, it seems the young left-hander spent a few too many hours watching “The Future’s So Bright” on repeat as his shades never left his face throughout the game – causing me to think Matzek considered himself “Too Cool For School“. Had he presented as the former first-round pick who signed for $3.9 million, I probably wouldn’t have noticed. However, after a sub-par performance which left Matzek looking more project than prospect, the look struck me as indifferent, leaving a negative impression.
Entering 2011, Matzek’s top-100 status took a minimal hit, which was a bit surprising considering what myself and scouting contacts witnessed late in 2010. In mid-March, during the height of prospect ranking season, I took a bit of heat from Rockies faithful for posting the following:
Entering 2011, Matzek’s development will be the prospect story of the Colorado Rockies organization. Should Matzek regain his previous form, Rockies fans can breathe a sigh of relief and look to Matzek as the potential front line starter his draft slot would indicate. However, to still assume he’s a “can’t miss” guy would be way off base as I’ve spoken to multiple baseball people who have hopped off the Matzek bandwagon.
Then, the bottom fell out for Matzek, as he posted an 8.05 FIP — heavily influenced by a 12.5 BB/9 in Modesto — prior to a demotion back to the South Atlantic League. Matzek’s problems continued in the “Sally” prior to being sent away for a month to work with his amateur pitching coach. Upon his return, Matzek’s every start was dissected, including reports of him touching 97 mph. This prompted me to take a trip to Rome to catch a late season start, even though it was my fourth time seeing him in person. And while Matzek did show flashes of his previous form, he was still a shell of his former self — even though I texted “He’s Back” to a scouting contact after Matzek dominated Rome hitters in the first inning with his fastball/slider mix.
In that first inning of play, Matzek’s fastball sat at 90-92 mph, touching 94 a couple of times. The ball came out of his hand much easier than I remembered with late explosion through the strike zone. Early on, his inability to locate effectively played to his favor as it kept Rome hitters completely off-balance. He paired this offering with a mid-80s slider early to devastating effect. For an inning, he was the Tyler Matzek of old. However, he struck me as more thrower than pitcher (understandable considering his documented issues) which left me wondering whether or not his impressive first inning was something he could repeat?
That question was answered in the second as his velocity slipped to 89-91 mph. By the third, Matzek was down to 87-88 mph consistently where his velocity sat the remainder of the game. Matzek touched 93 mph a couple of more times out of frustration once Rome began to figure him out, with one pitch even ricocheting off of the screen behind home plate after badly overshooting the target.
Later in the outing, Matzek leaned more on a mid-80s changeup and upper-70s curveball which was a positive development considering I previously viewed him as more of a two-pitch prospect from previous viewings. Both pitches show promise — especially the changeup, which includes late run and just enough drop to miss bat barrels.
From a mechanics standpoint, most noticeable for me was the consistent arm slot Matzek threw from. His release point is still a work in progress, but seeing him simply “play catch” with his catcher was a positive development. Once Matzek fully irons that part of his mechanics out, better leg drive off the mound may add more consistent velocity to the equation which will allow him to maintain consistent radar readings in the 90+ mph range after the adrenaline rush to open a game wears off.
On one hand, Matzek did show glimpses of the raw stuff which made him a top prospect in the first place indicating positive adjustments have been made this season. Conversely, the big picture view of Matzek as a player is that he was a lesser pitching prospect in August 2011 than fourteen months earlier. These statements truly create a glass half empty or full scenario based on how much one believes in Matzek’s ability and whether or not he has the makeup to work all the way back. An August ERA of 2.65 with a K% north of 30%, followed by Matzek putting up goose eggs in his final 2011 start is definitely a positive, but this off-season will be key for the young left-hander as a return to Modesto and the hitter friendly California League will be quite a test to open the 2012 season.