Tyler Matzek Tyler Matzek

Tyler Matzek’s Downward Spiral


When the Colorado Rockies selected lefthanded pitcher Tyler Matzek with the eleventh pick in the 2009 draft, they were nearly universally praised. Matzek was often mentioned as the best high school pitcher in the draft, or near the top of that class, and many analysts said that he slid to the eleventh pick only due to his high bonus demands.

Just two years later, though, Matzek’s showing that even such a highly-touted prospect can have things go wrong in a hurry.

For a while in 2010, Matzek seemed exactly like what he was supposed to be–a devastating power lefty in the Clayton Kershaw mold, with a bigtime fastball and a wide array of effective offspeed pitches.

But by the end of the season, reports had his velocity down to the mid-to-high-80’s. Matzek managed to strike out 88 batters in 89 1/3 innings–no small feat for a 19-year-old in Low-A–but 62 walks and the aforementioned scouting issues clouded the picture enough for me to leave him off my Top 100 Prospects, despite a 2.92 ERA at the level. While most other lists had him somewhere in the Top 100, the consensus was that the problems in the second half dropped his stock somewhat. That said, there was a general sense of optimism that Matzek was just experiencing adjustment woes in his first long summer of baseball. There were also rumblings about Rockies brass tweaking his mechanics, which it was assumed would help him in 2011 any beyond.

Fast forward to today, and it’s clear that whatever issues plagued Matzek down the stretch in 2010 were far from a usual case of minor adjustments or first-year fatigue. Promoted to High-A to open the season this year, Matzek struck out 37 in 33 innings–but it took him ten starts to get those 33 innings in, which tells you all you need to know about their quality. Matzek racked up 46 walks (!) and a 9.82 ERA (!!) before being demoted back to Low-A, where he’s walked 15 batters in nine innings while allowing another fourteen earned runs.

In 42 innings (about half of what most starters have thrown this year), Matzek has led the minor leagues with 61 walks. Sure, he’s struck out over a batter per inning–47–but if you’re throwing this many pitches outside the strike zone, it’s not often that a ball’s going to be put in play, so your outs almost have to be Ks.

It’s tough to be extremely pessimistic about a 20-year-old who was highly touted just a year ago, but these are the sorts of issues that don’t tend to go away easily, and Matzek just seems to be unraveling more and more as time goes on. Clearly, he needs a major overhaul of some sort to get his confidence and mechanics back in order. Until that happens, he’s a cautionary tale for those who automatically assume that drafting a player with lots of buzz will translate into that player starring in the big leagues. Particularly with pitchers, there are just so many things that can go wrong.