Lefty pitching prospect Steven Matz is hot

[sny-editorial userid=”tobyhyde”]Thursday, in his third start of the 2014 season, and his second straight against the Fort Myers Miracle, LHP Steven Matz took a no-hitter into the sixth inning. The only two hits he allowed all night were a bunt single and a bloop into right. His pitching line: 7 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 6 K and 11 groundball outs.[/sny-editorial]

In three starts this year in St. Lucie, Matz has allowed five runs, four earned in 18 innings for a 2.00 ERA. He’s struck out 17 and walked only three, on his way to a 24 percent strikeout rate and a 4 percent walk rate. For reference, in 2013, in the South Atlantic League, he struck out 29 percent of opposing hitters and walked 9 percent.

Matz Delivery ST (Getty)Last week, Mets pitching coach Dan Warthen compared Matz to Dodgers LHP Clayton Kershaw. There’s obviously some hyperbole in comparing a pitcher in advanced Single-A with the best lefthander in baseball over the last five years, and one of the game’s top five pitchers overall, but his excitement is understandable.

Add St. Lucie Pitching Coach Phil Regan to the chorus of Matz fans. Earlier this week, in a phone conversation, Regan said of Matz,

He’s got a perfect pitcher’s body. He’s throwing the ball 95-97 miles an hour with a pretty good breaking ball and changeup. That’s pretty good.

After his first start against the Miracle, on April 11, in which he limited Fort Myers to three runs, two earned in six innings, with six strikeouts, Regan reported that his old friend and former big leaguer Doug Mientkiewicz, who is now managing Fort Myers told him after the game:

“Boy, tall left-hander, throws like that, and he gets everything over. We weren’t going to do much with him.”

Matz relies on his fastball and changeup, as his primary off-speed pitch. He told MiLB.com that those were working for him Thursday.

“My command was there. I was able to throw all my pitches for strikes. My fastball and changeup and the contrast between the two was really working for me, and I was able to keep them down and in the zone.”

Over the course of the last few years, he has gone back and forth over whether his breaking ball was a slider or a curveball. Now, after tightening up the break, it’s a true curveball and he can throw it for strikes. Regan again,

“It’s got a sharper break. Now it’s a definite curveball. The nice thing is that he’s getting it over.”

Matz has been generating enough groundballs to damage the Florida State League’s infield grass. Thursday, at one point, he induced seven straight groundouts. His ground out to air out ratio for his three starts is now 28-5.  Overall, his 60 percent  groundball percentage is fourth among qualified pitchers in the FSL.

In the larger picture, Matz, my pre-season No. 7 prospect, who will be 23 years old after Memorial Day is off to a great start. He’s well on his way to pitching for the Double-A Binghamton Mets for most of the summer. His promotion might even come in the month of May if the B-Mets have a rotation opening. Generally, top pitching prospects under Sandy Alderson and Paul DePodesta have made at least eight starts in advanced Single-A before moving on.

[sny-table rowheader=true columnheader=true]

Pitcher;Games in A+;Age

Jacob deGrom;6;24.8

Luis Mateo;3;23.1

Steven Matz ;3;22.9

Rafael Montero;8;22.5

Matt Harvey;14;22.3

Zack Wheeler;22;21.9

Noah Syndergaard ;12;20.8

[/sny-table]

Age is the player’s age at the time he was promoted from St. Lucie to Binghamton, except for Matz where age is his age today.

The timing on Mateo and deGrom’s promotions were each driven by injuries in Double-A. Mateo was only supposed to be making a spot start in Double-A last spring, filling in for Cory Mazzoni, but Mateo strained his elbow during the start and eventually underwent Tommy John surgery. After Mateo was hurt, the Mets promoted deGrom from advanced Single-A to take Mazzoni/Mateo’s spot in the rotation.

So, if there’s a need in Double-A, Matz could move soon. Otherwise after another 5-7 starts, he might just force the Mets to make room for him in Double-A anyway. From Double-A, Matz, who is already on the Mets 40-man roster, could be looking at a big league debut as soon as 2015.

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