Lefthander Tyler Matzek, the Rockies’ No. 1 prospect for the last two years, has left the organization’s low Class A Asheville affiliate and will spend the next two weeks training near his California home with his personal pitching coach from his amateur days.
Matzek and assistant general manager Bill Geivett met in Asheville last week, and Geivett said they came to the decision together in trying to find a solution to Matzek’s control problems. The 6-foot-3, 210-pounder had been demoted from high Class A Modesto to Asheville after going 0-3, 10.09 in the California League and was 0-2, 14.00 with the Tourists. In 42 innings overall, Matzek had issued 61 walks while striking out 47 and giving up 49 hits.
Matzek’s pitching coach in California, Lon Fullmer, said he has already seen progress with Matzek after working with him for four days. He has resumed a series of conditioning and pitching drills designed by Dr. Mike Marshall, the 1974 Cy Young Award winner in the National League and pitching guru whose ideas are generally shunned by the Major League Baseball establishment.
Fullmer called Matzek a “hybrid Marshall” protege and said his control problems stemmed from a more conventional delivery that Matzek has adopted since signing. Geivett used the phrase “partial Marshall,” and said the organization just wanted to do what it could to get its 2009 first-rounder, who signed for a bonus of $3.9 million, on track.
“We wanted Tyler to feel comfortable, and that’s the biggest reason we’re doing this,” Geivett said. “He has struggled throwing strikes. I sat down and talked with him . . . and he said he thought there were drills that he did as an amateur that he thought would help him repeat his delivery and stay in line to the plate better.
“He knew the drills, he just felt he’d be more confident with (Fullmer) there.”
Matzek’s departure for California was first reported by Baseball America correspondent Jack Etkin of InsidetheRockies.com.
Fullmer has gone over the program with farm director Marc Gustafson and roving pitching instructor Bo McLaughlin, and McLaughlin was scheduled to visit the workouts in Coto De Caza, Calif. Fullmer said McLaughlin may be surprised by what he sees, considering that many of Marshall’s training methods are seen as anathema by most MLB organizations.
“Tyler is a Marshall hybrid pitcher with a high slot, and that’s how he pitched from ages 10 to 18 when I worked with him,” Fullmer said. “When he’s at his best, his arm slot is comparable to Clayton Kershaw or Tim Lincecum . . . Right now he’s dropped down more and more ever since signing, and he’s over-rotating in his delivery . . . he looked like Dontrelle Willis.”
Matzek clearly wasn’t himself in terms of command or velocity in his last two seasons. While he went 5-1, 2.92 last season for Asheville, he walked 62 in 89 innings, and Fullmer said at best Matzek was “effectively wild.” Geivett said Matzek’s velocity also was an issue, fluctuating from the mid-80s to peaks of 94-95 mph. Matzek touched 98 regularly late in his high school career at Capistrano Valley High, which he led to a CIF title in 2009 as a two-way star.
Fullmer said he hoped to have three weeks or more time for Matzek’s refresher course on his amateur regimen, but was happy to have the opportunity to work with his pupil again.
“Tyler feels great,” Fullmer said. “I’ve already got him back straightened out in terms of his direction to the plate, which is what we’ve focused on so far. He was slinging it out to the side, which is not conducive to the pronation we want out of a pitcher. Kershaw is where we want Tyler to be.”
It’s also where the Rockies want Matzek to be eventually—fronting a rotation in the NL West. To get him back on track to that destination, they have sent him outside the organization for help. It’s a rare move, but Matzek was having such issues throwing strikes that the Rockies decided they had to try something.
“As I talked to him, about what he would be doing, it didn’t sound unconventional,” Geivett said. “There weren’t any red flags. There’s no ego here. We all want Tyler to be a great pitcher, and we want to do whatever we have to do for that to happen.”