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Steven Matz has big-league stuff; now he's waiting for call to The Show

Steven Matz, 23, was born in Stony Brook

Steven Matz, 23, was born in Stony Brook and attended Ward Melville High School. Selected in the second round of the 2009 draft, Matz had Tommy John surgery before he was ever able to make his pro debut. Once he began pitching in the minors in 2012, it was evident the starter was on the fast track to the majors. In 55 games (54 starts), Matz has a 2.30 ERA, 1.17 WHIP and has struck out 305 in 297.2 innings. Currently in Triple-A Las Vegas’ rotation, Matz is on the Mets’ 40-man roster. Credit: Newsday / Alejandra Villa

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. - Mets prospect Steven Matz stood atop the pitcher's mound, the main attraction in what he turned into a personal showcase.

Near the field, general manager Sandy Alderson settled into his seat, curious to know if the Ward Melville High School product could pitch Double-A Binghamton to an Eastern League championship last September.

In the scouts' section, the radar gun readings confirmed what they already had seen in the course of the season.

Matz, 23, has made up for lost time.

Tommy John surgery had robbed the Stony Brook native of the first two years of his professional career. But after enduring a rehab riddled with speed bumps and setbacks, he has re-established himself as one of the Mets' most promising prospects.

"He's as impressive as any lefthanded pitching prospect I saw in 2014," one scout said.

Another evaluator saw enough from Matz last season to suggest that when healthy, he might be on par with Noah Syndergaard, the imposing Mets righthander who is considered one of the best pitching prospects in baseball.

Considering the growing hype, Matz's masterpiece in the Eastern League title game proved to be a fitting flourish. He struck out 11 and took a no-hitter into the seventh inning to lead Binghamton to the championship.

"He was great in his biggest game ever," said the scout, who was in the stands that night. "I loved his poise, mound presence and focused ability to compete."

For the second straight season, Matz avoided the physical problems that once marred his development. In two years, he has rocketed through the system, his confidence soaring at every stop.

Matz likely will begin the 2015 season at Triple-A Las Vegas, just one step away from a sweet homecoming, though some in the organization believe it won't be much longer until he's ready for the majors.

"It definitely feels close right now, especially since I'm in big-league camp," Matz said. "You're around all the big-league guys, so I'd definitely say in that aspect, it feels pretty close."

The right stuff

With a fastball in the range of 92 to 95 mph -- he has touched 97 mph -- some rival talent evaluators believe that Matz has shown the polish to make most big-league rotations out of camp.

In the last year, his changeup has developed into a weapon when paired with his fastball, scouts said. And a curveball that some had considered a weakness has become a strength.

"His fastball and breaking ball are good enough to allow major-league success now," a rival evaluator said. "How quickly his changeup develops will determine how fast he goes from the back end to the middle of the Mets' rotation."

That's high praise considering the strength of the Mets' starting five, which is fronted by Matt Harvey, Zack Wheeler and Jacob deGrom, the reigning Rookie of the Year.

"We should see him this year," said deGrom, one of Matz's best friends in the organization.

If anybody can appreciate Matz's journey back from an injury, it's deGrom, who also recovered from Tommy John surgery early in his career.

"He didn't have the easiest road back from Tommy John," said deGrom, who kept tabs on Matz's ascent last season. "I think once he finally started feeling good, your confidence comes back. He's learned a lot along the way and he's a great competitor. That's the reason why he's making so many jumps."

Long Islander's bumpy road

The Mets chose Matz in the second round of the 2009 draft after a standout career at Ward Melville. But surgery delayed his pro debut until 2012.

Not until 2013 did Matz successfully pitch through a season without an injury. In 21 starts with low Class A Savannah, he posted a 2.62 ERA. But his best work came in 2014.

In 24 starts split between high Class A Port St. Lucie and Double-A Binghamton, Matz went 10-9 with a 2.25 ERA. Perhaps most encouraging is that he showed few outward signs of all the time he had missed.

"You would never have known that he didn't pitch there most of the season," one talent evaluator said, referring to his 12 Double-A starts. "He looked like he belonged. He fit right in. He dominated hitters. He mixed his pitches. It wasn't like he was relying on one pitch. And it looked like he had command of what he was doing."

For Matz, success at Double-A might have been his sweetest victory.

"When you're down in the lower levels, you look at these guys . . . and you wonder how you would do against them," Matz said. "And then you get to Double-A and you face guys that maybe have been in the big leagues, or who are knocking right on the door, and you're getting them out. It's a big confidence-booster."

Matz's next steps

Some work remains to be done. One scout believes Matz can tighten the command of his four-seam fastball. Another noticed his occasional tendency to make mistakes up in the zone. But those are fixes that come with experience.

For Mets vice president of scouting and development Paul DePodesta, Matz's next step depends mostly on staying healthy.

"I don't know if you look at him and say 'he's got to come up with another pitch' or 'he's got to throw more strikes,' " DePodesta said. "There's not really that. I think it's just a matter of facing those advanced hitters and gaining a better understanding."

A year ago, some uncertainty existed about Matz and whether he could develop his secondary offerings to become a surefire starter. Those questions no longer apply for the lefthander, who is regarded by many scouts as a strong mid-rotation prospect.

One scout compared Matz's stuff to that of the Rays' Matt Moore, the one-time All-Star who is recovering from Tommy John surgery. Another evaluator sees shades of the Angels' Tyler Skaggs, another promising young lefty who also is coming off surgery.

"For me, I just want him to be Steven Matz," DePodesta said. "I think that's going to be pretty darn good. I think you've got to be careful not to be caught up in comps."

For much of his career, Matz has worked in the shadows, forced to wait for his body to heal. Now, as he carries the added burden of heightened expectations, Matz insists he won't change the approach that revived his career.

"Honestly, when you get on the field, you've just got to get your work in and try to get better," he said. "That's all you can do. People saying that stuff isn't going to help you go out there and pitch better. You've got to put the work in yourself and do it. That's what I try to focus on."

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