The Evolution of Matt Magill
For various reasons unrelated to Matt Magill, I’ve seen Matt Magill pitch five times this season. Scouting games primarily in two locations, one tends to get know the home team players better than most. I’ve become very familiar with guys like Dodgers prospects Jake Lemmerman and J.T. Wise, and Braves prospects William Beckwith & Brandon Drury, from my trips to Chattanooga and Rome. When I usually visit these ballparks, I’m there specifically to see someone on the opposing team. The first time I saw Magill pitch, I knew I’d write him up at some point this year. I just thought I’d write him up during the offseason. Well, the story has changed a bit. Magill has gone from a fringe Major Leaguer to someone I would call a prospect of note in Double-A.
It’s easy to miss Matt Magill on the Lookouts roster. At points this season, Magill’s rotation mates have included top prospects such as Allen Webster, the recently traded Nathan Eovaldi and Ethan Matrin, and former first round picks like Zach Lee, Chris Withrow, Aaron Miller, and Chris Reed. While his name isn’t as sexy as some of his teammates, his strikeout ratio puts him in exclusive company. Looking at Double-A pitchers who have thrown at least 75 innings, Magill ranks third with a 10.39 K/9 ratio. Only A’s pitcher Daniel Straily and Reds prospect Kyle Lotzkar have a higher k/9 ratio. In fact, those three are the only Double-A pitchers with ratios over 10 in the group. Even guys like Danny Hultzen, James Paxton, Taijuan Walker and Zack Wheeler can’t say the same. Magill may not have the overall stuff and higher upside of those 4 pitchers. But what he has is pitchability, guts, and a plus slider that helps him accumulate these astounding strikeout numbers.
The first half of 2012, Magill’s fastball was looking for an identity. Early on, I saw him consistently around 87-90mph. As the first half of the season moved along, his velocity kept inching higher. In fact, during one start in June, he constantly hit 93-94 on the gun. While impressive for a guy that I saw consistently hitting the high 80s earlier in the season, it did him no favors getting guys out. His fastball had turned into a flat pitch that he was unable to command and it hurt his two secondary pitches, which I regard as better overall pitches.
I saw a different fastball from Magill in July. He was now sitting 89-92 and was exhibiting improved command with the pitch. His fastball is an average offering on its best days. He has to rely on plus command to be effective. There is little margin for error with this pitch. Still, while only being ordinary and average, the fastball sets up his secondary pitches very well.
Magill’s slider is a mid 80s offering that is the catalyst for his high strikeout rates. He combines good command with above average movement on multiple planes and shows the ability to throw the pitch to any batter in any situation. I haven’t seen a young right-handed pitcher with as much confidence in his slider against left hander as Magill has in the pitch. His command of this pitch is better than most Double-A pitchers command their fastballs. I have only seen him get hurt once on this offering in a terrible June start against Pensacola. Coincidentally, this was the same start where he was sitting in the 93-94 range with his fastball.
Magill’s changeup, like his fastball, has gone through a metamorphosis this season. This is a pitch that early on would have been considered below average. When he threw it he slowed down his mechanics and stood straight up, but did showcase a 7 to 8 MPH variance in velocity between his changeup and fastball. But, for the reasons I listed above, he showed no confidence in the pitch. While the command of his fastball is directly related to his good second half, I’m sure he’ll tell you that his improved confidence in his changeup has been the biggest difference in his first and second half splits. His changeup in the second half has been a product of several things other than just his confidence. The speed variance is still present, the arm action is much improved and his body is no longer “selling out” the pitch. His changeup has added a new caveat too; moderate downward sink. The additional movement has been a nightmare on both right handed and left handed hitters.
The last start I scouted of Magill, on 7/11/2012, I saw a pitcher with utmost confidence in his arsenal. Judging from the boxscores and Magill’s own comments after his recent pitching performances, that confidence hasn’t let up. While Magill does not feature a plus pitch, his stuff plays up because of this confidence and command. In a lot of ways, my first look at Magill reminds me of my first look at Mets pitcher Dillon Gee. I saw a pitcher on the fringes of the big leagues. Like Gee, through hard work and further understanding of his strengths and weaknesses, Magill is becoming a very good pitcher. While this kid is probably no more than a 4th starter in the big leagues, he is primed for a long MLB career of keeping hitters off balance and going deep into games. With the abundance of pitching the Dodgers seem to have, it is conceivable that Magill’s big league future is starting for another team. I’d say his ETA to the big leagues is midseason 2013 but I could see a kid like Magill push for someone’s fifth starter job possibly before that.