Matzek Impresses In Instructional League
has yet to throw a professional pitch in a game that counts and won’t do so until 2010. Nonetheless, the Rockies started seeing returns on their sizable investment when the left-hander participated in their instructional league program.
The Rockies took Matzek with the 11th overall pick this year in the amateur draft. Minutes before the deadline on Aug. 17, he came to terms on a deal that included a franchise-record $3.9 million contract. With the minor league season then winding down, Matzek went to Rookie Casper to get back into throwing shape for the instructional league, which recently ended in Tucson.
There Matzek, who turned 19 on Oct. 19, showed the work ethic, competitiveness and stuff that were so impressive in Casper along with a keen pitching acumen and being notably accountable as he went from simulated games in Casper to the instructional league program that included games against a Diamondbacks team.
In his first game against the Diamondbacks, Conor Jackson led off against Matzek. Jackson, 27, was using the instructional league as a comeback vehicle after missing much of the 2009 season because of Valley Fever. He played his last game for the Diamondbacks this year on May 11 and was leading off every inning in the instructional league to get an abundance of at-bats.
True, Jackson was getting back into competition. But he does have 484 games and 1,624 at-bats on his major-league resume.
“The kid was almost over-competitive against the situation, just pounding fastballs in,” said Casper pitching coach Craig Bjornson, a staff member in the instructional league. “He punches the guy out on 94-96 mile an hour power fastballs in, just goes right after him.
“After he came out, I said, ‘Wow, you took care of Jackson didn’t you?’ He goes, ‘Not only have I been watching him in these other couple games we played (in the instructional league), but I remember him. I think I’ve seen him on TV. He’s got a long swing, so I wasn’t going to do nothing but pound him in.’
“This is a high school kid. You go, ‘Whoa, yeah, you’re right, Tyler. Good job.’ ”
Matzek, who went to Capistrano Valley High School in Mission Viejo, Calif., was described as “confident but not arrogant” by player development director Marc Gustafson. And roving pitching coordinator Bo McLaughlin said, “Not many kids come out of the high school ranks able to do what he can.”
Typically, high school pitchers who have overpowered hitters at that level have a crude changeup. It’s not a pitch they needed to succeed, so they rarely threw it. Matzek is an exception. Bjornson, while getting to know Matszek in Casper, learned he typically would begin his bullpen sessions by throwing 25 changeups before doing any work with his fastball. Hence, he has a very good feel for that pitch and its importance in the bigger mound picture.
“That’s what any of us would love for these younger pitchers to develop is how to change speeds on a baseball,” Bjornson said.
Matzek also throws a curveball and slider, the latter an 85-88 mph offering with late downward movement. In the instructional league, Matzek showed flashes of a good curveball. But the pitch was inconsistent and often short of the mark, which was understandable, since a curveball is a ‘feel’ pitch honed by regular use and Matzek missed a lot of time before getting to Casper.
“But when he hit it,” Bjornson said, “you saw it and you go, ‘OK, that’s the breaking ball that he has when he’s in in-season shape.’ ”
Moving beyond simulated games in the instructional league, Matzek showed an accountability rare for a young pitcher. In a camp game, Matzek was sailing along in another two-inning outing when Kent Matthes drove a double to deep left field. The Rockies drafted Matthes, a right fielder, in the fourth round this year out of Alabama. At short-season Tri-City, he began his professional career by hitting .289 with five homers and 35 RBI and led the Northwest League with 23 doubles.
Bjornson said in his post-game discussion with Matzek, Bjornson “didn’t really want to bring up the negative; I was just hitting his positives.” It was Matzek who asked, “Hey, what about the double?”
Bjornson was about to discuss command, answering Matzek’s question but in a way that softened any criticism. “He goes, ‘That’s what’s supposed to happen when you leave a pitch over the middle like that,’ Bjornson said. “Most kids come with an excuse at that age.”
Matzek is expected to begin his professional career at low Class A Asheville, although not necessarily when the season begins in early April. The Rockies have at times limited the innings for their young pitchers and enabled them to avoid cold weather at the outset of the season with a few weeks in extended spring training.
To be sure, Matzek, like any young pitcher, has to be able to repeat his delivery more consistently. Bjornson said he’ll try to do too much with a breaking pitch or a fastball, get a little jumpy and open his front side too early. In the case of a fastball, the result can be a 96 or 97 mph pitch sailing up and away to a right-handed hitter. Thinkbefore he found his reliever’s groove.
But Matzek’s delivery requires no major overhaul. Roving pitching coordinator McLaughlin lauded Matzek for having “real good balance and a very clean delivery for such a young age” and for “understanding about how to pitch and how to transfer the weight under control.”
Because of the way he was taught, Matzek has a delivery that suggests he will stay healthy. Bjornson said Matzek’s “arm just stays free and loose through release. He doesn’t have any violent recoil or snap or elbow jerk…right at (the) release point and after, which is when a lot of the injuries occur with young power arms.”