Who doesn’t love rooting for the hometown underdog? The local kid with a golden arm who’s overcome injuries, obstacles and the critics’ whispers to get his promising career back on track? Doesn’t everyone want to see such a player make good one day in a MLB uniform?
Enter Steven Matz. He’s from Stoney Brook, Long Island and still lives there with his parents during the off season. Matz was a teenager out of Ward Melville High School when the New York Mets made him their first draft pick in 2009 (72nd overall). As an overpowering lefty, Matz looked like he’d be riding the express train to Queens.
But first he’d have to wait out a season as a penalty for his late signing. Then came the Tommy John surgery on May 18, 2010 before Matz ever threw a minor league pitch. After throwing six innings during extended spring training in 2011, micro-sized muscle tears were discovered in Matz’ left elbow. The Tommy John procedure looked to have held up, but once again, the lefty’s season was shut down prematurely.
When he eventually got on the mound on June 20, 2012, three full years after being drafted, Matz’ performance with the low-A Kingston Mets showed why the big club was so high on him in the first place (1.55 ERA in 29 IP), until suffering yet another elbow injury.
Finally healthy in 2013, Matz threw 106.1 innings for the class-A Savannah Sand Gnats, posting a 2.62 ERA while striking out a phenomenal 10.3 batters per nine innings. His WHIP was 1.166 and his BB/9 dropped from 5.3 to 3.2, showing improved control to go along with a mid-to-high-90s fastball. After flirting with the slider earlier in his career, Matz has settled on a change and curveball as his secondary pitches, both with “plus” potential.
His strong campaign prompted the Mets to add Matz to the 40-man roster, thus giving him an automatic spring invite (he arrived in Port St. Lucie on January 27) and avoiding his possible loss to the Rule 5 Draft. The team is still very invested in their only major left-handed prospect, though, you have to wonder how long they will tolerate his fragile elbow.
Matz’ ability to stay healthy for a second-straight year, more than his final numbers or climbing velocity, will determine his future in the organization. A complete 2014 could earn the local product another fast track ticket to the AAA Binghampton Mets and then the majors, where he could further develop into a solid No. 3 starter.
Another unhappy visit to team doctor David Altchek likely means Matz and his jerky, labored delivery will be rebuilt in the bullpen, perhaps as a late-game specialist or even a closer.
If he’s with the team at all – not every inspiring story gets the fairy-tale ending, especially in such a fate-fickle world as baseball’s.