Minor-League Monday: Tyler Matzek

Author’s note: For the month of September, we’ll be looking at prospects who have had weird and/or unexpected seasons, and we’ll ask what we should make of it. After that, we’ll examine the Arizona Fall League rosters and who you should be paying attention to when prospects head to Arizona in November.

When Tyler Matzek was drafted 11th overall by the Colorado Rockies in 2009, he wasn’t a typical raw, flame-throwing high school arm. He was a somewhat polished high school arm that could throw in the mid-90s. Matzek slipped to 11th because of believed signing bonus demands, but once he signed for about $4 million, many believed the Rockies just nabbed the steal of the draft. Two years later, the outlook on Matzek has drastically changed, but is he making a comeback?

Once Matzek stepped into the Rockies organization, Colorado did something weird with Matzek. They changed his delivery. Here is a video of him from just before the draft, and I’m not sure what you would really want to change. Here is a video of a March 2011 appearance, and it appears as though the Rockies have lengthened his arm action, having it drop down a bit more to get more extension instead of fairly straight back from his high school days, and have his arm coming from a slightly lower slot. Matzek also seems to be rotating his hips more, and he occasionally throws across his body when he doesn’t release his hips quite enough on the follow through. This inability to repeat his mechanics would hamper his control. Perhaps the Rockies believed that a longer arm action and a lower slot would provide an arm action that was less violent, but whatever the reason, Matzek never seemed to quite take to it. Matzek’s 2.92 ERA in 2010 masked a terrible walk rate of 6.2 (strikeout rate of 8.9), and Matzek really collapsed in High-A with a walk rate of 12.5 (strikeout rate of 10.1).

The Rockies sent Matzek home to clear his head and re-learn his high school mechanics. Since returning in late July, Matzek has improved, though he occasionally has control issues, and he’s pitched 7 innings in 5 of 9 starts, which indicates that he’s pitched well enough to make it there. Matzek is striking out more hitters, and while he’s had starts of 7 and 8 walks, he’s had 5 of 3 or less.  As he continues to make his way back and re-accustom himself to his mechanics, the occasional control lapses should dwindle.

If it does, Matzek has the pure stuff to be an ace. While his fastball dipped into the 88-92 range during the beginning of the season, his fastball is back in the mid-90s. In addition to a plus fastball, Matzek has an above-average slider that could be plus and a change with plenty of potential. He also adds a curveball, but it’s considered his worst pitch, though it could be developed to give him a fourth solid pitch. The ceiling for Matzek is an ace, but he’ll need to re-establish himself to get there.

The question now is will he. Massive control problems would prevent even an ace’s stuff from being effective, but if Matzek is comfortable in the new mechanics, the control problems should be a thing of the past. Pitching prospects are a normally risky bunch, and he becomes riskier because of his bout with control issues. Matzek, however, has incredible stuff, and scouts and teams usually bet on stuff (why else would Daniel Cabrera have as long of a career as he did?). They also bet on age, and Matzek will turn 21 in October. Even if he needs a year at High-A, AA, and AAA, he’ll only be 24 when he makes his major-league debut. Matzek still has a bright future, but we’ll all need a bounce-back year in 2012 to believe that his mechanics were the only issue. Just don’t be surprised if it is.