02 June 2008

Draft Preview -- Finding 1:4 (Brian Matusz)

Introducing Brian Matusz

Prior to the 2005 MLB Rule 4 Amateur draft, Matusz notified each Major League team that he would not sign for less than $1.475 million dollars. The Angels selected him in the fourth round hoping to sign the talented lefty for less -- Scouting Director Eddie Bane and the Angels front office stood firm that he was not worth first round money at the time. Matusz proved himself to be a man of his word, turning down the opportunity to begin his professional career and opting to join the Toreros. Three years later he has put himself in position to go in the top 5 and is rumored to be among three players Tampa will be choosing between this Thursday at 1:1. Statistically, Matusz has been among the best for the past two seasons, though his mechanics leave some room for improvement. Provided he's still on the board, should Baltimore select this year's top lefty?

The Numbers

Statistics (National Ranking out of 500 Ranked)
Innings Pitched – 96 (Not Available)
Strikeouts – 131 (2)
Strikeouts Per 9 Innings – 12.28 (5)
Walks – 21 (Not Available)
Walks Per 9 Innings – 1.93 (88)
Hits Per 9 Innings – 7.50 (59)
Earned Run Average – 2.56 (38)
Wins – 11 (5)

For the second straight season Matusz will finish in the top 2 in strikeouts and in the top 10 in SO/9 IP. This weekend Matusz passed San Diego State's sophomore phenom Stephen Strasburg as the nations strikeout leader, and with Strasburg's season over Matusz is a good bet to finish at #1 (he finished behind only Vanderbilt's David Price last season -- Price went 1:1 in the '07 Draft). Matusz combines high strikeout numbers with solid peripherals, averaging fewer than 2 BB/9 IP and fewer than 8 H/9 IP. Statistically he is one of the top five pitchers in college baseball, and the best arm available for this year's Draft.

The Frame

At 6'4" and 200 pounds, Matusz is a textbook example of a lanky lefty. He has a large frame, leaving plenty of room to thicken throughout his pro career. Durability should not be an issue, and he should settle in nicely as a workhorse in a Major League rotation.

Scouting: Film

Weight Transfer – Matusz's motion is compact and efficient, wasting little energy and focusing his momentum towards his target. He keeps his hips and lead glove closed as he leaves his knee raise and transfers into his stride. The stride is where Matusz can get into trouble. He doesn't utilize his legs to their full extent, usually taking an undersized step towards the plate.

This is detrimental in three ways: 1) he is not fully utilizing his strength in his legs to drive towards home, meaning he's losing some velocity, 2) by not extending outwards, he's throwing from an elevated position, making it more difficult to pitch on a downward plane, and 3) he is lengthening the distance between his release point and home plate, meaning his fastball is less likely to have the appearance of "late life" (when the pitch appears to explode towards the hitter around 2/3rds of the way to the plate). From time-to-time he'll land on a stiff front leg, which some have flagged as potential concern for future injury. While the conclusion of his weight transfer could use some tinkering, the shortcomings are more likely to be the difference between Matusz being a #1 starter or a #3 starter than they are to be the difference between success or total failure at the ML-level.

Arm Action – Because his weight transfer isn't ideal, Matusz relies on his size and his arm strength to get his fastball into the low-90s. As he plants, his arm is loaded at shoulder height and is in prime position to follow his lead glove, hips and torso efficiently and effectively. At times he can get a little stiff in the arm, though generally his motion is fairly clean and easy. He comes in slightly above a 3/4 release and uses an almost identical arm slot for all of his pitches.

Follow-Through – Like Crow, Matusz has a very free and easy follow-through. His balance is centered, keeping his momentum forward and preventing and fall-off. This also assists in maintaining his above-average command. His arm is loose and free coming across his body, with little to no recoil. His head stays quiet and his body, in general remains well under control.

Pace – Matusz is clean throughout his delivery. He keeps a good pace through his motion, not allowing energy to escape through unnecessary movement. As discussed above, a longer stride would help unleash more of the energy that he has built up through his knee raise, but all-in-all he is deliberate and direct to the plate. His momentum builds well and continues through his release.

Motion Grade – B+ – If Matusz can lengthen his stride, he could add 2-3 mph on his fastball. This could be the difference between success and dominance at the Major League level. His motion is effortless and repeatable, making it highly likely that Matusz will be able to successfully make adjustments once he starts his professional career.

The variance in stride leads to some inconsistencies in fastball velocity. Some days Matusz sits 88-90 mph, and others he sits 90-93 mph. He commands it well and is able to both throw strikes and place his fastball in the four corners of the strike zone. Since he works primarily off of his offspeed stuff, his fastball has a tendency to "sneak up" on hitters who are looking for his plus changeup or plus curveball. His changeup is among the best in college baseball, and his curve serves as his primary offering. He has above-average command with both. His slider is a fringe average pitch that he commands reasonably well, though it is his fourth best offering behind the fastball. His above-average arsenal combined with superior command is probably good enough to get out ML hitters right now, though he'll need to get his fastball consistently in the 92-94 range if he wants to establish himself as a legit frontline starter.

Arsenal Grade – B+
Command Grade – A

Is Matusz Worthy of 1:4?

Matusz profiles as a #2 starter capable of pitching up to a #1 provided he's able to tweak some of his mechanics. Usually, command is the last tool to come for a young pitcher. Matusz has command to spare, making him a prime candidate to move quickly through the Minors. He hasn't necessarily been the best overall arm over the last two seasons (Price and Strasburg probably taking those honors for '07 and '08, respectively) but he has been consistent and consistently near the top of any SP list. While no pitcher should be considered "safe", he is the best bet of the college arms to reach his potential and should be in heavy demand come Thursday.

Prospect Grade – A-
Suggested Draft Slot – 1-4
1:4 Recommendation – Strongly Consider drafting

Current Draft Board

1. Pedro Alvarez (3B) Vanderbilt University
2. Tim Beckham (SS) Griffin High School (Georgia)
3. Brian Matusz (SP) University of San Diego
4. Buster Posey (C) Florida State University
5. Justin Smoak (1B) University of South Carolina
6. Aaron Crow (SP) University of Missouri
7. Gordon Beckham (SS) University of Georgia Draft Preview

6/3 am Potential Targets for Rounds 2-3
6/3 pm Potential Targets for Rounds 4-5
6/4 Mail Bag and Final War-Room Review
6/5 Camden Depot Shadow Draft and Live Draft Coverage

Don't forget to keep the great questions coming for this Wednesday's Mailbag.

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