Another week, another injury to a big name MLB draft prospect. This week it was Duke’s Mike Matuella’s turn to announce he would need Tommy John surgery. He has suffered from forearm tightness all season and really this should not be much a surprise. He had not looked right all spring and as I mentioned in my Trends column this week, his last start was a bit of a mess.
Before the year began, Brady Aiken, Matuella and Brendon Rodgers were widely considered the top three players in this draft. Personally I had them in the order listed above before the season started. Matuella is a 6’7” right hander with mid-90’s heat and two plus pitches. He really emerged at Duke but had been shut down last spring because of health woes involving his back and arm.
Last week I wrote about how Tommy John was not a big deal for Aiken. For Matuella this injury is a huge deal. One of the big reasons is that this means he won’t get any chance to show what he can do. Matuella has a total of 23 starts and only 139 innings in three years at Duke. For comparison, just last year Brandon Finnegan had 17 starts and a 105 innings for TCU. Matuella was undrafted out of high school and had a velocity jump in college. Teams have been waiting for an extended look at Matuella. This is not possible now and a lot of teams will have concerns about what they saw in limited outings.
On top of the natural concerns that come with Tommy John surgery, Matuella was diagnosed with spinal spondylosis. Most medical resources describe it as a manageable back problem but one that can cause reduced mobility and can be degenerative. Matuella is a bigger kid and back injuries with taller pitchers can be a concern. I am not a doctor, but teams look for reasons to avoid risk and this is another risk that teams will have to take into account.
I wrote how Aiken, in spite of Tommy John surgery, was still a likely top-10 pick. This injury assures Matuella will fall out of the top-10. Maybe he agrees to under slot and some team takes a risk, but I would not bet on it. This will cost him millions of dollars. On top of this, it really puts Matuella between a rock and a hard place in terms of bonus demands. He can’t go back to school. He would miss most of next season and then be a 22-year-old senior with two big injury red flags who hasn’t shown any signs of being an elite talent in more than two years. His value will only get lower from here. He could red-shirt all of next year but it is never in your favor to be a 23-year-old red shirt senior.
Bottom line regarding Matuella is there are a multiple injury concerns, and he hasn’t been effective in approaching a year. How much faith can you put in 11 good starts during his sophomore year? I feel awful for the kid, as he went from a likely top-three pick and possible top overall pick to a player that a team will have to gamble on.
This scenario is vaguely similar to the Sean Manaea situation in 2013, where a player went from a likely top-three selection to the back-end of round one. I could see a team with multiple picks trying to save money to spend on the potential upside of Matuella.
Matuella became the ultimate risk-reward player in this draft to me. There are a lot of little concerns which add up to scare me. Before the injury, I had slid him out of my top-10 picks in my most recent mock. Now I will be sliding him even further down the list.