Name: Matt Teague
DOB: December 14, 1984
It didn't matter what he chose to throw, Teague' ball darts in, out, up and down.
Ironically, he is among the best at commanding his pitches within the strike zone – almost to a fault.
In 39 innings with Eugene, the southpaw walked just six men – and four came over his final two outings. He walked five more while playing for Portland – but it is an area of his game that needs mending.
Knowing when to throw a ball will be crucial to his advancement. There were times when a team would sit on the first pitch he tossed, knowing that he would likely be throwing a strike. While he worked just two innings in the Padres fall Instructional League, 85.7 percent of his first-pitches went for strikes.
"This is a kid that throws too many strikes," Eugene manager greg Riddoch said. "He throws strikes all the time but he can't throw a ball straight. I told him one time on the side, ‘Throw this ball straight and I will give you a million dollars.'
"He threw it and it moved. I said, ‘You lose.' Which is a good thing.
"He needs to throw something that the movement takes it away from the plate so he doesn't throw as many strikes."
His stats were similar during the season. Hitters were sitting on the upcoming strike and teeing off. While his ball would generally sit low in the zone, good hitters were able to pound the ball.
There is a feeling, however, that the free-swinging of the short-season Northwest League is vastly different than higher leagues and what is wrong with throwing strikes?
"He pitched better in Triple-A," Eugene pitching coach Dave Rajsich said. "He pitches to contact and they make the plays at the higher level. You get a ground ball and are waiting for a double play – that is just not going to happen."
"As long as they keep throwing strikes...I told these guys, ‘As long as you throw strikes down in the zone, we will find shortstops and second basemen that will make plays for you. ‘Throw strikes and get ground balls. You will make it to a place where they will make those plays for you. Then you will throw 10 pitches an inning."
The left-hander was given two spot starts in Triple-A Portland and came away smelling like roses. In nine innings he did not allow a run, yielding five hits while striking out nine.
While hitters were swinging often down in short-season, Teague found his command worked to his favor with Portland, as hitters struggled to get a beat on him and wanting to see more pitches resulted in Teague often pitching ahead in the count. By the time those hitters were more confident, they were down two strikes.
"His fearlessness," former Portland pitching coach Gary Lance said of what impressed him regarding Teague. "He came up and said, ‘I know this is Triple-A, but I have my way of pitching and I am going to throw it up there and see what happens.' What happened was really good stuff. I have had so many guys come up and try and do more than they are capable and get ripped. He didn't do that. He went out there and pitched the way he pitched and was tremendous."
He experienced some shoulder stiffness late in the year and was shutdown from live competition, throwing two sidelines.
Teague features a tilting slider that has a chance to be a plus pitch and a developing changeup. His slider will stay elevated at times and that is a product of knowing when to bury it versus throwing it for a strike. The slider has tight spin and dipping movement that should become a strength. His confidence in the changeup improved during the year and he should be able to toss it in off-counts in the coming year.
His fastball was below-average during the 2007 season, hitting 88-89 MPH but sitting 85-87. But the southpaw has a feel for pitch sequencing and setting up hitters. Teague did not get much of a rest during the season and his fastball could add a few ticks in the coming year, hitting the 90-92 MPH he flashed in college at Carson-Newman.
"He threw two sidelines for me," Rajsich said. "What I saw was a lot of movement – consistently down in the zone. I can see where he was effective. He has a nice sharp slider. He has a change. He has an idea what he is doing.
"I think there is more there than what I saw because he threw a lot of innings this year," former minor league field coordinator and current MLB scout Bill Bryk said. "He went to Triple-A and dominated but came back and got his brain beaten in."
Teague fared better against right-handed hitters during his first professional season. He can spot his fastball down and away to righties but has trouble using the same pinpoint control to the opposite side against left-handers.
A consummate professional, Teague is always listening and taking what he is taught into games. He never believes he has all the answers and genuinely appreciates any insight given.
The eighth-round pick has a true overhand delivery and a big knee bend which helps drive him towards the plate. He has good posture, allowing to keep his line to home and giving credence to his impressive command.
Teague picks up the plate well out of the stretch, allowing him to hold the runner for an extra second with his eyes as he makes his move towards home.
Going overhead out of the windup ensures his body stays aligned with his arm, giving him consistent mechanics. He is very clean and effortless through the process.
"He is listening all the time," Rajsich added. "I would be talking to other pitchers, and he would come up to me and ask questions, ‘Why do you want to go over top? Why do you want to go on this side of the rubber?'
"He is learning and has an idea. He cannot throw a ball straight. The ball is moving. He looked like he had good command of the fastball down and away. Being a left-hander and looking at San Diego, if he can hit that corner down and away it will make it tough on righties. If he keeps the ball down – who knows?"
"He is a tremendous kid," said Riddoch. "A great work ethic and a super kid. He needs to learn when not to throw a strike. He has to be effectively wild on occasion so those hitters aren't going to be like, ‘Be ready because this guy cranks them in there so be ready to hit it.'"
ETA: Teague is a polished left-hander much in the mold of other southpaws that have jumped levels. He does not have the changeup of the aforementioned prospects but has a good slider and solid command. His smarts could lead to a jump in levels and he may very well end up as a middle reliever that can get righties and lefties out.