While Matzek has unofficially topped my prospect list since the second week in June, we had to wait until Monday to officially kick off this debate. As improbable as this discussion may have seemed leading up to the draft, the conclusion should not be terribly difficult, as Matzek combines power offerings, moxy, command, and one of the smooth delivery into a package the Rockies haven’t seen in a pitching prospect. Let’s look at a few reasons why Matzek should front your Purp list:
Matzek has the deepest repertoire of all Rockies’ top prospects
YouTube is becoming a great source for prospect video. Type in the name Tyler Matzek and you get about twenty different videos. One benefit is that you get a great look at Matzek’s four-seam, two-seam, slider, and curve. If radar gun readings are more your thing, then you’ll love this one.
What do these tell us? For one, Matzek’s breaking pitches are both plus pitches, with both breaking roughly on the same plane, but vary in their depth and velocity. One thing you may notice in these clips is that Matzek throws both breaking pitches from the same slot, which isn’t all that common for high school pitchers. When the fastball comes from the same slot (it seems to on most of the clips but on the two-seam it looked like he tried to get on top of the pitch more) it helps play up his deception. In addition to arm slot, Matzek’s arm speed stays consistent from pitch to pitch. This becomes more deadly when hitters cannot tell out of hand which breaking pitch he’s about to throw without a tip from his arm speed. What we don’t have great video of here is his change-up, but those that watched his AFLAC outing saw a few solid ones, and this pitch as well should become a staple offering.
What separates him from Friedrich is going to be the variance in his fastball. Like Ubaldo Jimenez, Matzek seems to have the ability to bounce between fastballs regularly to produce a desired effect. The Rockies will most likely stress the importance of the sinking two-seam, but you cannot ignore the importance of being able to reach back and get 96 MPH when you need it, which Matzek does in the link above.
So we have a pitcher that has plus velocity on his fastball, plus break on his curve and slider, good arm speed and consistent arm slot… what will make these pitches better? Command and Matzek has it. Watch a long enough clip of Matzek (like his Law or AFLAC video) and you’ll see him consistently spot his fastball on both sides of the plate. This is what separates him from the other high school arms in the draft, and puts him over Chacin for me. Jhoulys doesn’t have to be fine in the minors because his pitches move so much. Matzek likely won’t need it either through the early minors, but simply having plus command is what’s going to get him to the majors in short order.
Matzek has a very easy delivery
This may be the most overlooked aspect when comparing Matzek to the other top arms in the system. The first thing that likely stand out for you is the ease at which Matzek delivers the ball. He keeps a good tempo from leg lift to release, and does not speed up his arm to catch up to his lower body (one thing that Friedrich tended to show on his draft video). I like how Matzek keeps things simple on the mound and focuses more on tempo and balance, as you’ll notice his head tends to stay on the same plane until release (a good sign of balance). It’s this balance and tempo that allows Matzek to maintain his consistent arm slot and release point, subsequently aiding his command.
This isn’t to say that Matzek’s delivery is flawless; Baseball America notes in their draft profile that Matzek tends to open up too soon. However, correcting this may have/will bridge the gap between early velocity rumors on Matzek (90-94) to the more recent ones (96). On some of the breaking pitch clips above, you might notice that Matzek’s shoulders may be coming square a little too quickly to home than ideal. In the velocity video, though, Matzek is doing a better job of getting separation between the time his hips start to open and the time his shoulders do. Making this motion more consistently will not only potentially increase his velocity, but put less strain on his arm and allow his core to better assist his delivery to increase efficiency (which in turn promotes stamina, velocity, and health).
Matzek is highly regarded in the scouting industry
That isn’t to say other Rockies prospects aren’t highly regarded, but remember, no Rockies’ prospects made Baseball America’s mid-season top 25. We don’t have any guarantees Matzek will get there, but we have several anecdotes to lead us to believe he’s one of the top incoming prospects for 2010. Matzek was voted in Baseball America’s draft preview to have the second best secondary offering among high schoolers, the best command, and the "closest to the majors." Depending on which scouting service you relied on leading up to the draft, Matzek was anywhere from second to ninth on big boards, climbing as the draft grew near. You can also see this praise of Matzek in post signing day chats, such as the Callis chat Rox Girl recently linked that picks Matzek over Jacob Turner. From Goldstein to Law to Baseball America, Matzek is held in very high regard, more so than any recent Rockies’ draft pick. You don’t have to like Matzek because I do, but read some notes by these guys that get paid to evaluate talent, and you’ll read comments you just don’t see said about our other top arms.
Matzek has a little bit of everything from our top prospects, but takes it one step further.
I don’ like reading the argument that Matzek can’t be number one because he hasn’t thrown a professional pitch yet (where do we rank him if his first pitch is a ball?) simply because there’s enough information available on Matzek to not have to wait to see that Asheville ERA. I don’t think it’s fair to discount Matzek for something out of his control, namely professional experience, when so much of the physical attributes point in his favor. Matzek throws consistently harder than both Friedrich and Chacin, but as hard as Rogers. We saw Chacin reach 94 mph in relief, but in most of his Tulsa starts, he sat 89-91. Friedrich’s fastball is rumored anywhere from 88-95, but Goldstein continually refers to this pitch as a tick above average, while calling Matzek a potentially overpowering lefty in his draft preview. Similar to Rogers, Matzek doesn’t have to exert as much effort as Friedrich and Chacin to generate 90+ heat, and with a more consistent hip-shoulder separation, Matzek could sit mid 90’s more consistently.
Friedrich may have the best breaking ball still in the system, but Matzek’s curve doesn’t trail too far behind it, and Matzek’s slider could easily become his most effective breaking pitch. That would put Matzek and Friedrich on a roughly similar level on off speed pitches. Chacin’s breaking pitches are arguably more raw than Matzek’s, and while his change-up may be a better pitch on movement, his command isn’t aiding to its effectiveness yet.
Matzek has them all beat on upside. Friedrich cannot match his fastball and ease of delivery. Chacin cannot match his command or his velocity. Rogers cannot match his repertoire. All these pitchers are great prospects, but Matzek either exceeds their tools or is close to bridging the gap in tools he lags behind in.
Whether or not Matzek’s more impressive physical tools put him over the top is a question for you to decide, just don’t make light of all the details. From the ease of delivery to the stuff to the command to the national reputation, Matzek has more helium than any Rockies’ prospect since Tulowitzki, and it wouldn’t surprise me to see him reach the Top 10 some national publications’ Top 100 Minor Leaguers lists. Does the complete package outweigh the lack of experience? It’s now your turn to tell me.