In Sunday’s editions of Newsday, we wrote about Steven Matz, the 22-year-old Ward Melville product who got his career back on track with an impressive season at Class-A Savannah. After rehab from Tommy John Surgery essentially wiped out his first three pro seasons, Matz logged 106 1/3 innings over 21 starts last season and finished with a 2.62 ERA.
Matz will likely begin this season at Class-A Port St. Lucie and could conceivably make the jump to Double-A Binghamton. He hopes to eclipse the 130 inning mark by season’s end, and he didn’t waste much time working toward that goal.
Matz arrived at Port St. Lucie on Jan. 27 even though he officially won’t begin his first big league camp until pitchers and catchers report on Saturday.
“It definitely feels different because I’ve played a full season now,” said Matz, the Mets’ top draft pick (72nd overall) in 2009. “You know what you’re going to feel.”
We reached out to several scouts about Matz, and they all believed that he did enough to reestablish himself as a prospect. Most think he’s capable of making the big leagues in as little as two years if he can dodge the arm troubles that have delayed his pro debut.
“There’s nothing about him that would suggest that he missed a lot of time,” said one evaluator, offering perhaps the most encouraging sign of where the pitchers stands in his development.
Here’s more takes on Matz from the scouts:
The scouts we spoke to agreed that Matz’s fastball continues to be his clear strength. Clocked around 94-96 mph early in games, his velocity has dipped to 92-94 mph as he’s progressed through his starts. But one rival evaluator noted that the movement on Matz’s fastball remained steady during his outings.
“The movement was pretty consistently there,” the evaluator said. “It’s late movement that makes it hard to square up. Movement is cool but late movement is awesome. That was the best thing about him by far. His fastball ability right now is definitely a couple steps ahead of everything else.”
The scout projected Matz’s fastball as an above average pitch in the big leagues thanks to natural movement that typically runs in on lefties and away from righties. But when he gets in trouble, the scout said Matz’s fastball tends to flatten out, an issue he’ll have to address as he progresses.
This is where Matz has room to grow. One evaluator envisioned Matz’s [mid-80s] changeup as a “slightly above average” pitch in the major leagues, noting his natural feel and his ability to sell it with good arm action. But that feel is still “come and go,” the scout said. Matz also throws a harder curveball [high-70s] though scouts said it lags behind his fastball and change. Another scout also said Matz experimented with a “fringy” cutter that he doesn’t see as a viable offering in the future.
“[He] lacks confidence in his breaking ball, which is a tweener between a hard curveball that flattens and a cutter,” said the scout. “I’d can the cutter and rely on the development of the curveball with a hard slurve break.”
One scout said Matz has shown the makings of a “reliable delivery” moving forward. Listed at 6-foot-2, 195 pounds, another evaluator noted that Matz’s delivery can sometime look choppy and lack fluidity. However, the our panel mostly agreed that Matz delivery looks easy, especially considering the velocity he generates on his fastball.
The strength of Matz’s fastball alone may get him to the majors, one scout said.
“This could be a guy in two or three years who breaks in as a starting pitcher, who maybe could stay in that role for a season or two seasons,” said the scout, who sees Matz ultimately sticking as low-to-medium leverage reliever type who could handle both lefties and righties.
Another evaluator said Matz’s eventual role will hinge on the improvement of his secondary offerings.
“He really needs a breaking ball he can rely on, otherwise he’s a lefthanded [bullpen] piece,” said the scout, who envisions Matz as a future setup man.