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This was supposed to be the season in which a certain promising 23-year-old pitching prospect who made all sorts of noise during spring training eventually knocked down the door to the major leagues and established himself at the top of the Colorado Rockies' rotation.
And you know what? That's exactly what happened.
It just wasn't the guy everyone thought it would be.
All of the talk before the season surrounded Eddie Butler, the Rockies' No. 2 pitching prospect who stormed through three levels of the minor leagues in 2013 and forced the team to seriously think about inserting him into their starting rotation to begin the season. The team smartly reconsidered and assigned Butler to Tulsa, and all the while, another young first-round pick was inching closer to the big leagues.
Butler got there first, but it was fellow 23-year-old prospect Tyler Matzek who made a lasting impact. Matzek's long and bumpy road to the promised land finally ended on June 11, when he tossed seven scoreless innings against the Braves and cemented his place in the Rockies' scuffling rotation. The Mission Viejo, Calif. native had his ups and downs during his rookie season, but finished the campaign on an extreme high note.
In late August, we wrote about how Matzek had discovered the right attitude to go along with his stuff, which has never been in doubt during his professional career. The article references what might have been the turning point in Matzek's rookie season: a relief appearance in the Rockies' 16-inning loss in Chicago on July 29. It took a couple of starts for Matzek to get back on schedule and reacquainted with the rotation, but look at these numbers the young southpaw put up to end the season.
Those are ace-type numbers, and ones that, before this season, very few people would have expected Matzek to put up during any stretch in the big leagues. What we saw from Matzek over the last six weeks of 2014 is what we only hoped we would see from him every other start in the low minors.
As we sit today, Matzek has established himself as the best pitcher among a group that includes Butler, Jon Gray and Tyler Anderson. That comes as a surprise to pretty much every person -- every person, that is, with the exception of Minor League Ball's John Sickels, who said this before the season:
"Last year a scout told me that Matzek's stuff was every bit as good as Gray's and Butler's and, in a way, more special because it comes from the left side. The difference-maker of course is command consistency, which they have and Matzek does not."
Sickels and his scout source were proven right. Are we making a huge deal out of a small sample size? Maybe. As Sickels notes, Matzek never showed any sort of consistency in the minors. That's the bad news. The good news? Matzek never showed any sort of consistency in the minors. Where am I going with that? Well, if he has finally shown that he can put together a string of eight good starts, a world-beating feat for this guy considering his past, then what might he do with a near-full season of experience under his belt? What might he do with better catching (non-Wilin Rosario division, of course)? And better coaching? And better umpiring?
As Rockies catcher Michael McKenry told me in August, the sky is the limit for Matzek. Let's hope one or two of the other top pitching prospects in the organization join him, because if they do, we might see some excitement again at 20th and Blake in the near future.