Duke’s Mike Matuella was once projected as a first-overall pick in Monday’s MLB First Year Player Draft before the 2015 college season, but he fell all the way to the third round at No. 78 overall.
The Texas Rangers got a steal, if Matuella can bounce back from Tommy John surgery, and if his back can hold up to the rigors of a professional season. There are definitely some questions when it comes to Matuella’s health, but his stuff has big-time upside.
When I saw him in the season-opener against eventual No. 25 California – who pushed Texas A&M to the brink in the College Station Regional – Matuella showed off everything that, at the time, made him the prohibitive favorite to go one-one.
The 6-foot-7 righty went 6.0 shutout innings, throwing 84 pitches (on a pitch count of 80-90) and gave up four hits and two walks, striking out eight against an offense that led the Pac-12 in home runs (45) and hit .274 on the year.
In that game, he sat at 95 with his fastball, hitting the low zone with a heavy, sinking two-seamer and mixing in a knee-buckling 82-mph curve and slider. Matuella changed the hitters’ eye level very effectively, elevating his four-seamer to get swings and misses while stealing strikes in the low zone and on the outer edge with his two-seam and off-speed stuff. He can throw his 12-6 curve for strikes, and for swings-and-misses.
His length adds another 2-3 mph to his fastball, which explodes out of his hand, and has at times has hit 97. What can wind up a game-changer is his circle change. It’s a pitch he didn’t have for the majority of his sophomore season, but he’s confident throwing it in all counts.
But, there’s a reason why Matuella fell so far. As much upside as Matuella has, he didn’t have a single year at Duke where he threw more than 60.0 innings, and he only threw 25 this season before going under the knife for Tommy John surgery.
Not throwing as many innings as other college prospects (the Golden Bears’ own 6-foot-7 righty Ryan Mason, likely to go in the round 15-20 range, threw 237 in his three-year career) could have been a plus for some teams, but that plus is balanced out by the elbow injury in part (most teams at this point are comfortable taking a pitcher who’s had Tommy John surgery), but mostly by his back issues.
Matuella had lat discomfort as a sophomore, and was later diagnosed with spondylolysis, a manageable condition that involves a defect in the connection between vertebrae. It was the reason he was handled so delicately to start his junior season, and was the reason he made just 11 starts as a sophomore.
If he recovers from surgery, and the spondylolysis is managed, Matuella has front-of-rotation stuff and a very projectable frame. In three years, he’s added more than 10 mph to his fastball, and while he’s not as scrawny as he was to start his career with the Blue Devils, he’s still got a lot of room to add weight to his frame.
By the Numbers
Matuella has thrown 141.0 IP in college.
As a junior he started six games, going 1-1 with a 1.08 ERA, allowing just three earned runs on 20 hits over 25.0 innings.
Matuella struck out 24 and walked 11, and held opponents to a .238 batting average before going down with a torn ulnar collateral ligament.
As a sophomore, Matuella ranked second on the Blue Devils with a 2,78 ERA in 11 starts, striking out 69 over 58.1 innings of work. He held opponents to a team-best .190 batting average. Only four ACC starting pitchers held opposing hitters under .200. He also posted a 0.95 WHIP – 10th in the single-season Duke record books and 10.65 strikeouts per nine innings (6th in single-season Duke history).