Keeping Them Guessing
Matzek's arsenal has left hitters baffled
The pearl white balls being thrown on the manicured fields of the USA Baseball National Training Complex are a far cry from the old matchbox cars in Tyler Matzek's childhood home, but it's still the same game. One person is throwing, while the other guy tries to hit it.
These days the roles are reversed from the backyard games he played with his father as a 4-year-old: Matzek is the one throwing pitches that have left some of the nation's top hitters confused all summer.
Matzek, a 6-foot-2 lefthander, has gained traction as the top prep lefthander in the class of 2009. It's been clear since Matzek's freshman year at Capistrano Valley (Calif.) High that he had the kind of arm that would allow him to play baseball at a high level.
"The biggest thing you have to consider is he had raw talent," said Matzek's pitching coach Goose Olander.
Matzek has pitched at Capistrano Valley since his freshman year. While he had drawn the attention of scouts at showcases throughout his high school career, his breakout performance wouldn't come until he outdueled another Southern California prep star.
It was just a preseason game between Lutheran High (Orange, Calif.) and Capistrano Valley with little fanfare in the local press, but the scouting community in Southern California descended upon the game to check out Lutheran righthander Gerrit Cole. Cole was once considered to be the top prep pitcher in the 2008 draft class and the preseason contest was expected to be nothing more than an exhibition of Cole's mid-90s fastball.
"That was the first time the radar guns really showed up," Matzek said.
Instead Matzek, who had only been previously seen by a few of the scouts, stole the show. Matzek struck out five of the six batters he faced, and even he couldn't help but notice the attention scouts have showered him with since that outing.
"That was what really got me noticed," Matzek said.
The preseason scrimmage vaulted Matzek into the spotlight as one of California's top high school prospects, garnering invitations to the summer's most prestigious events. Matzek's summer began with a trip to Minneapolis for the Perfect Game National Showcase, where he demonstrated an impressive repertoire of pitches, along with his athletic frame.
Matzek confounded some of the best hitters in the country with a fastball that he worked between 89-91 mph. Matzek touched 93 with his fastball at times, in the process striking out five of the six hitters he faced. That led to his selection as the top prospect at the event by Baseball America.
Matzek next headed to Cary, N.C., for the USA Baseball Tournament of Stars, where he would again face some of the most promising young hitters in his draft class. Matzek, once again, was rated the top prospect at the event after starring for the AABC team. Matzek was not quite as dominant as he had been in Minneapolis, giving up two earned runs in the final inning of his 6 1⁄3-inning outing. The lefthander struck out nine and allowed only two walks.
Matzek's duel with Cole may have gained him national recognition with scouts, but his comparision by scouts to another California prep pitcher selected in the 2008 draft is equally noteworthy. Mike Montgomery, a 6-foot-5 lefthander out of Newhall, Calif., showcased a hard fastball and feel for a breaking pitch in his high school days before being selected in the first supplemental round by the Royals.
"He seems to fit in around that same area as Montgomery, either first or (supplemental) round," said Dave Perkin, a scout for Baseball America's Prospect Plus service.
What has moved Matzek from just another lefthander with a live arm into the elite class of 2009 pitchers is the command of his fastball and mature feel for his secondary pitches.
"He has as hard of a breaking ball with as tight of spin as anyone here I've seen, but the key is he delivers it with the same arm speed as his fastball," Olander said.
Matzek's arm speed provides deception when delivering his offspeed pitches as his curveball, which projects as an above-average pitch with tight spin, comes in at 75-77 mph.
Matzek's slider could develop into his most devastating pitch. Like with his curveball, he throws it with the same arm speed and action as his fastball, and hitters struggle to identify the pitch because of its tight, late break.
Matzek's ability to deliver three quality pitches that project as above-average is scary enough to opposing batters, but they may be even more terrified that he is still developing a changeup. Matzek considers his changeup to still be a work in progress, yet he often uses it as a strikeout pitch.
"It's still something I'm getting a feel for," Matzek.
After a trip to the Metrodome earlier in the year, Matzek will head to an even more impressive facility for the Under Armour All-America Game: Wrigley Field. Even pitching in one of the most hallowed venues in baseball, Matzek will approach the game the same way he has all summer: one pitch at a time.
"The competition is incredible," Matzek said. "I just have to take it one pitch at a time. If I can throw 90 percent of all the pitches I throw where I want them and keep the batter from hitting them, that would be a success."