Tyler Matzek: The Gift & The Curse
We have seen pitchers with great talent excel and go on to greatness (Felix Hernandez, C.C. Sabathia).
We have seen pitchers with great talent and great numbers in the Minors who never ended up throwing a meaningful Major League pitch (Matt White- #6 Prospect 1998, Jesse Foppert- #5 Prospect 2003).
We have seen pitchers with great talent have All Star caliber seasons and then suddenly lose it due to mental vulnerabilities (Rick Ankiel, Dontrelle Willis, Steve Blass)
Tyler Matzek is a great talent.
The young lefty, out of Capistrano Valley High School, was selected 11th overall by the Colorado Rockies in the 2009 MLB draft. In his first season of professional baseball he posted an impressive 2.92 ERA, in which he soon after began garnering comparisons to Clayton Kershaw and Tim Linecum by baseball insiders. An increasing amount of hype seemed to build around Matzek before the 2011 season, as he was ranked the #33 prospect by MLB.com. Following the 2011 season the compliments and hype have come to an abrupt hault. All of a sudden we have suddenly seen Matzek go from virtually unhittable in his first season of professional baseball to a pitcher who had developed severe control problems. So is he the next Kershaw or Rick Ankiel?
Matzek struggled bad in 2011. Was it nerves, mechanics or did the pressure of being the Rockies most heralded pitching prospect in their 19 year history get to him? After twelve decent starts for the Asheville Tourists, Matzek was then promoted to the Modesto Nuts, of the hitter friendly California League. It was in Modesto where the troubles began for Matzek. In ten starts he accrued a 9.82 ERA and had completely lost the command that had made him one of the most highly touted prospects in baseball. The Rockies organization did not having a remedy to resolve Matzek’s woes so they recommended that he head home to Southern California for two weeks to work with his old pitching coach and another instructor.
The two men who were tasked to get Matzek back on track were his pitching coach in California, Lon Fullmer and Mike Marshall. Marshall was already known throughout baseball, as he was the 1974 Cy Young Award winner in the National League and pitching guru who had unconventional methods that had been ridiculed at times. It was there that they worked on getting him back to the release point that had previously been compared to Kershaw and Linecum. It appears that all of Fullmer and Marshalls tutorials and work has paid big dividends, as Matzek is once again showing the promise and flashes of brilliance that he demonstrated in 2010. Pitching for the Modesto Nuts, once again, Matzek has a 3.38 ERA in four starts (was lower, but sank after a poor start yesterday) and is averaging over one strikeout per inning.
The Tyler Matzek story is one that every sports fan can take a rooting interest in. It is the classic “Come Back saga,” in which someone has to overcome adversity in order to fulfill their talent and destiny. History says that it is more likely that Matzek will not have All Star caliber career. Rick Ankiel was never able to recover from his bouts of wildness and had to make the transition to the outfield. Dontrelle Willis has toiled in obscurity, never regaining the command that he had in his successful 2003-2006 seasons. But for every Ankiel and Willis there is a Chris Carpenter and Roy Halladay. Both of these pitchers endured hardships early in their careers but were able to go on and have Hall of Fame esque careers.
Matzek is an artist. He has blank canvas to paint any picture or reality he wants. But sometimes that is the problem for someone as talented as him. Only he will we be able to show if his god given baseball talent was a “Gift or Curse.”
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