From Milk Carton to Missing Bats: The Steven Matz Story
Four years after Steven Matz was drafted by the New York Mets in the 2009 draft, Matz made his full season debut Saturday for the Savannah Sand Gnats in Rome. The road for the 21-year-old left hander has been rough, he has battled a multitude of arm injuries throughout his career. He made his professional debut last season in short-season ball with Kingsport and dominated the opposition in six game starts before his season was cut short by left shoulder tendonitis. In 29 innings with Kingsport, Matz struck out more than 10 batters per 9 innings and gave up only 5 hits per 9 innings. However, he showed a wild streak by walking 5 batters per 9 innings.
While his pitching line (4 IP, 4 H, 2 BB 2 ER, 6 K) wasn’t stellar, Matz was nonetheless impressive. He dominated the Rome Braves hitters featuring his a four seamer which held steady at 91 to 93 MPH with late, explosive life. The R-Braves hitters were late most of the evening and didn’t barrel-up a fastball until Aris Alcantara hit a double in the 5th inning. After the next batter, Matz was lifted. The Mets, like other organizations, have instituted a strict pitch counts throughout their minor league system and, while appearing fatigued, Matz was likely pulled because he exceeded his pitch count. The velocity and movement of his four seamer were reminiscent of former Mets John Maine’s fastball during the 2006-2007 seasons. Prior to his career being detoured by chronic shoulder issues, Maine was able to live in the upper half of the strike zone with late life on his 91-94 MPH heater because hitters never could square it up.
Matz featured his secondary offerings occasionally during this start, a clear indication that the Mets want him to establish his fastball command early. This development strategy is reminiscent of the three former Savannah starters I saw last season: Rafael Montero, Logan Verrett and Michael Fulmer, who all threw their fastball over 75% of the time in those early 2012 starts. His curveball, regarded by one Mets scout as his best secondary offering, was kept in his back pocket, instead he relied on a promising changeup and a fringy slider. The disparity in velocity between his fastball and changeup was only 4 or 5 miles per hour. However, his consistent his arm speed was deceptive and and the R-Braves hitters were kept off balance by his changeup’s arm-side downward run. The slider is a work in progress and looks to be in its infancy.
Because of injury, Matz has missed a great deal of development time. With a pitcher who has missed significant development time, lack of command and an inability to repeat their delivery should be expected. Matz’s fastball command was sketchy and varied pitch to pitch. When he missed, he missed by a lot. With that said, there were times where he painted the corners like an old pro. He repeated the lower half of his delivery consistently, driving towards the plate and maximizing the power in his lower half. While consistent, his upper body seemed to work at a different faster speed, with some unnecessary effort derived by his pitching arm. Imagine a moving walkway. His lower half is that guy standing still, allowing the moving walkway to steadily take him to his destination, while his upper half is that guy walking on the moving walkway, looking rushed and a bit unsteady.
Projecting Matz is problematic due to his injury history and without seeing his curveball. If Matz was an 18-year-old, it’s conceivable he’d make a few top 150 prospect lists by mid-season. As a 21-year-old with a problematic arm, it’s good to err on the side of caution. His goal for 2013 is to make his scheduled starts and avoid a trip to purgatory, the disabled list. Anything beyond that would be a bonus. His fastball flashes plus and his changeup has the makings of an average pitch. If his curve is as good as reports have indicated, Steven Matz could move up the ranks in an already pitching-rich organization.