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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“Our homegrown players are very important to us. We take their emerging free agency as a serious thing. We’d like to keep the homegrown players that are performing.” Larry Baer
I agree with the comments Larry Baer made about his home grown talent and wanting to retain his star players. Love them or hate them the Giants are a soundly structured business operation (even if its not always good for the product on the field). Rather than going for broke and using their incremental dollars from their 2010 Championship, they have chosen to forecast and allocate dollars to keep their home grown All Star pitchers in a Giants uniform for years to come. On the flip side in doing this they have seemingly put themselves out of the running for highly productive and expensive free agents like Prince Fielder and Albert Pujols. Next season Matt Cain, Tim Linecum and Barry Zito’s contracts alone will be over 50% of the Giants entire payroll. Not exactly the most ideal scenario given that the organization is usually great with attention to detail. Therefore, if all of their money is going to their pitching than it is extremely critical that Brian Sabean and Director of Player Personnel Bobby Evans accrue top of the line position players in their Farm System.
As of today the Giants are below .500 and have looked like a sluggish at times. I know it’s early and it is not a sprint but a marathon, however their offense doesn’t appear much better than the 2011 squad that hit .242. If you look at the Giants twelve position players you will notice that half of them were drafted by the organization. Only Buster Posey and Brandon Belt (who gets yo-yo’d in and out of the lineup) were opening day starters. For a team that depends so heavily on the draft this is not a good sign.
Prognosticators for Baseball America gave the Giants farm system a dismal #22 overall ranking heading into 2012. Compare that to their down South foes in San Diego and one can see that the Giants scouting department has made some talent miscalculations’. They traded away their #1 prospect, Zack Wheeler, last season for an underperforming half year rental in Carlos Beltran. Although that trade might sting and Wheeler could become a quality starter it’s not a move that will set them too far back. Remember it is the hitting that is the Giants Achilles Heel.
One thing we know is that a World Series ring is able to overshadow any and all draft mishaps. Besides Buster Posey, not one player has shown to be an average Major League quality hitter. Listed below are best offensive prospects picked in the 2004-2009 drafts.
2004: John Bowker
2005: Sorry, but not one MLB position player drafted
2006: Brett Pill or Emanuel Burriss
2007: Charlie Culberson
2008: Buster Posey & Brandon Crawford
2009: Tommy Joseph & Brandon Belt
The Giants may refute any criticism of their current Minor League system, instead choosing to rave about Gary Brown (#47 prospect), a athletic toolsy outfielder in Double A, and outfielder Francisco Peguero (#97 prospect). They also have two other former top picks Joe Panik and Tommy Joseph who have shown some potential (yet one wonders if the hitter friendly leagues that they played in gave their bats some extra life). All could be nice complimentary pieces, but none have been mentioned in the same breath as other highly touted first (Bryce Harper, Mike Trout, etc) or second tier (Miguel Sano, Mason Williams, etc) prospects.
The 2010 World Championship still lives on and the consistent sell outs show that the fan base is still riding the wave. But the harsh reality is that the Giants have been a hitting starved franchise that has only made the playoffs once in the past nine seasons. It is until they are able to identify top quality, long lasting offensive talent that they will be nothing more than a “One Hit Wonder”.
Until then, the Giants franchise remains in a bottle, with the lightning slowly leaking out.
For every baseball lover who follows Minor League Baseball there is no better day than when the Top 100 prospects lists are released every February. You get an insiders prospective into what each prospects overall skill sets consist of and why they can become the stars of the future.
On any first read, I always start at prospect #100 and scan until the #5 spot appears. It’s at the #5 spot that I truly start to take notice. In the past these Top 5 spots have been allocated to the likes of Joe Mauer, Josh Hamilton, Josh Beckett. It is the previously mentioned players that have made prognosticators and scouts look like geniuses for many decades. More times than not, if all these great talent evaluators are giving a Top 5 grade to any young prospect then it essentially means that these players potentially could shape and mold Major League Baseball for years to come.
The one exception to this was in 2007. Not since 2001 (Josh Beckett, Jon Rauch and Ben Sheets) or the vaunted 1992 Top 5 (Todd Van Poppel, Brien Taylor and Roger Salkeld) had the league seen a trio of young pitchers emerge on a Top 5 list. You had a prized import, a hard throwing Texan and the future face of New York all penciled in to become dominant #1 starters.
Daisuke Matsuzaka (Dice K):
“Who needs a gyroball? He has six pitches that grade out as plus or plus-plus at their best, and he’ll be the best Japanese import ever. And no, we’re not forgetting about Ichiro” ~
“As good as Chien-Ming Wang has been, this homegrown ace will be even better” ~
“The next great Texas fireballer in the tradition of Nolan Ryan and Roger Clemens” ~
Those quotes were one of the many glowing reports on these three “Can’t Miss” prospects. Dice K, the most highly touted of the bunch, had a robust 2008 season in which he garnered a 2.90 ERA and appeared to be a star on the rise. However, this has proved to be his last effective season due in large part to several nagging injuries, difficulty with consistency on his off speed pitches and drop in velocity. Like Dice K, Philip Hughes too has shown flashes of brilliance. Hughes had a solid 2009 campaign in which he compiled a 3.03 ERA and helped the Yankees to a championship run. But again like Dice K, he has struggled with consistency (although he had a decent first start) and has left Yankees brass scratching their heads. Rounding out the trio you have Bailey who has never been able to establish himself and has become a fringe #5 starter. Below are their career stats.
Dice K 5 Yrs, 4.25 ERA
Hughes 6 Yrs, 4.46 ERA
Bailey 6 Yrs, 4.91 ERA
If one chooses to be a glass half empty guy than they can say that Dice K will at best be a bullpen guy, Hughes will be pitching for the Orioles in a weak Baltimore rotation in a couple years and Bailey will finish the season pitching for Louisville. But lets look at these three guys in a more positive light. If all three guys retired today they would still have had better careers than Van Poppel, Taylor and Salkeld. Hey, Barry Zito who has arguable had the worst five years of any pitcher in Major League Baseball history was even able to bounce back and throw a complete game shut out on Monday.
So in the end there’s still hope for these three guys. But until then they are the “Big 3: The Best That Never Was”.
~Baseball America 2007, Staff, Feb 28 2007
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Never has a front office name been given so much praise, yet received equal ridicule at the same time.
By now we all know the tale of how Billy Beane was able to bring Bill James’ sabermetrics and analytics to the forefront of Major League Baseball. It was through this formula that he was able to defy baseball’s growing payrolls and produce highly productive small market/budget teams from 2000-2006.
The most important proponent of building a successful small market team was through identifying low risk talent and making prudent draft selections. In the mid to late 90’s the A’s were able to capitalize on using high first round draft selections to build the backbone of those successful 2000-2006 teams. Giambi, Chavez, Mulder, Zito and Hudson are names rarely mentioned in the book “Moneyball”, but are the main reason that the A’s were able to build a consistent contender.
The Bad, The Demise:
In 2003 Moneyball hit the bookshelves, in which thereafter Beane began receiving the moniker as a “living genius”. However, in actuality, this would prove to be his worst period of player evaluation work yet. Although Beane was able to accrue a high amount of first round draft selections from 2002-2007 (15 altogether), it is now clearly apparent at how poor these selections were. Over those five drafts the only players able to make any significant contributions to the A’s were Nick Swisher, Huston Street, Joe Blanton and Cliff Pennington. Besides those four players mentioned, not one of the other twelve players selected threw a major league pitch, and the position players only totaled a miniscule 401 combined at bats (most of which were Landon Powell) in the Green and Gold. You add on core players leaving for bigger contracts with higher profile teams, along with bad trades and thereafter it brings you to the underachieving A’s teams of today.
Below is a look at Oakland’s 2002-2007 1st Round Picks:
2002: Jeremy Brown, John McCurdy, Joe Blanton, Nick Swisher, Stephen Obenchain, Benjamin Fritz, Mark Teahen
2003: Omar Quintanilla, Brian Snyder
2004: Landon Powell, Daniel Putnam, Huston Street, Richard Robnett
2005: Cliff Pennington
2006: No 1st Round Pick
2007: James Simmons
I know a couple of years back A’s fans were optimistic with the prospect of having Cahill, Anderson, Gio, Chris Carter and Michael Taylor play in the Coliseum. With that said, I feel that Billy Beane has once again been able to put his best practices and fundamental principles to best use. He has been able to net several Top 100 MLB.com prospects through this past off-season trades, which included Jarrod Parker (#26), Brad Peacock (#75) and AJ Cole (#87). However, the biggest key has been through the previous four drafts, in which every player has showed promise.
Last four 1st round draft picks:
2008: Jemile Weeks (.303 avg in Rookie Season)
2009: Grant Green (#93, hit no lower than .291 in any minor league season)
2010: Michael Choice (#59 prospect, 30hrs in Stockton)
2011: Sonny Gray (#85 Prospect)
No one can predict the future, but I feel that a potential pitching staff featuring Parker, Peacock, Gray, Tom Milone and Cole, followed by a lineup with Cespedes, Weeks, Choice, Green and Derek Norris could set a great foundation to bring a once proud franchise back to prominence.
In the end Moneyball is dead. Draftball lives on.
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