It wasn't exactly the way anyone -- the player or the organization -- would have drawn it up, but Tyler Matzek's trials and tribulations in 2011 could be turned into a positive.
The young left-hander took an unusual path during the season, but is still standing to tell the tale in what can best be put under the "what doesn't kill you makes you stronger" category.
"Having gone through the adversity the first couple of years, hopefully it never happens again," Matzek said. "But if it does, I'd know how to handle it. I'd rather have it happen now in the Minor Leagues than cruise and fall off in the Major Leagues. This is the better of the two options."
Matzek then came up with an unorthodox idea. He wanted to go back home to Southern California and work with Lon Fullmer, his pitching coach when he was younger. Typically, an organization wouldn't be keen on handing over a top prospect to someone outside its system, but the Rockies, to their credit, allowed Matzek to take a leave.
"I'm really grateful the Rockies allowed me to do that," Matzek said. "They went out on a limb and went against the grain. I'm really appreciative of what the Rockies allowed me to do."
"It wasn't all mechanical stuff. It was a lot of mental stuff. I had a rough couple of years. I was beat down. Going back definitely helped clear my mind, but also gave me self-confidence. Now I have that confidence to pitch and throw strikes. That's what happened."
That's exactly why the Rockies allowed Matzek to go home. Had it been simply a matter of mechanics, the organization was sure he could have been straightened out internally. But the decision-makers realized that allowing him to work with Fullmer may have been the only way for Matzek to get his groove back.
"We could've worked through that; we could've gotten over that hurdle," said Marc Gustafson, the Rockies' senior director of scouting operations. "I think the decision was made because of the mental outlook. He was so depressed and down, he didn't have any confidence. When a player loses confidence, that's tough to get back.
"He knows what he's got to do. He's feeling really good about himself. He sounded like a different guy on the phone [after he went home]. It was pretty extreme, but it's something we would do for anybody, when they're really lacking, to help them find their confidence."
The Rockies' faith was rewarded. While Matzek still has work to do, he looked much better upon his return to Asheville, with a 2.78 ERA, a .168 batting average against and 64 strikeouts over his final 55 innings. He walked 35, but his walk rate went down as the summer wore on.
Rockies top 10 prospects
|1.||Tyler Matzek, LHP||Rosario|
|2.||Wilin Rosario, C||Drew Pomeranz, LHP|
|3.||Christian Friedrich, LHP||Friedrich|
|4.||Nolan Arenado, 3B||Arenado|
|5.||Kyle Parker, OF||Matzek|
|6.||Peter Tago, RHP||Bettis|
|7.||Rex Brothers, LHP||Parker|
|8.||Chad Bettis, RHP||Tago|
|9.||Juan Nicasio, RHP||Tim Wheeler, OF|
|10.||Charles Blackmon, OF||Joe Gardner, RHP|
"I'm just going to continue to work with Lon and continue to grow mentally strong. I want to build from there, from what I did at the end of the season. If I can do that, I should be back on track."
Top 10 review
The Rockies have always had a good farm system, supplemented by good international scouting and a willingness to take chances in the Draft. An already deep organization added to the coffers during the July 31 Trade Deadline period.
While teams never like to part with Major League talent, it was clear the Rockies weren't competing in 2011 and Ubaldo Jimenez was the best starting pitching option on the trade market. The Indians gave Colorado the best offer and the Rockies added three new members to the system who were immediately inserted into their Top 10.
The first was the last to come over. Drew Pomeranz was the player to be named later in the deal, so the left-hander had to wait in limbo for a few weeks. Then he went down due to an appendectomy, but he was back in just a couple of weeks and ended the season with a very encouraging showing in the big leagues.
"He pitched beyond his years," Gustafson said. "He showed toughness and composure. When you're able to endure some of the challenges he had, it puts a brighter light on you."
Alex White, who arrived from Cleveland immediately, has pitched too much in the Majors to be included in the postseason Top 10, but even with his up-and-down showing post-trade, the Rockies see him as a mainstay in the rotation, especially as he puts more distance between himself and the finger injury that shelved him for much of 2011.
Joe Gardner was the third prospect in the deal, but he comes in at No. 10. And the Rockies were extremely encouraged with how he pitched after the trade, posting a 2.48 ERA, .226 batting average against and whopping 4.00 groundout-to-flyout ratio over six starts with Double-A Tulsa.
"Gardner is a sinkerballer who showed up real well in Tulsa," Gustafson said. "That's three quality arms for us. We love Ubalado and wish him the best, but to get three guys, legit prospects ... time will tell."
Organizational Players of the Year
MLB.com's preseason picks
Nolan Arenado, 3B: The move to the California League, it was predicted, would allow Arenado to compete for a system batting title while also being among the leaders in homers and RBIs. He did top the system (and the Minors) in RBIs with 122 and hit 20 homers, though he fell short on the batting-average front.
Tyler Matzek, LHP: The thought was that Matzek was going to start figuring it all out and compete for an organizational pitching triple crown. It didn't quite work out that way, but sometimes you have to take a step backward before moving forward and Matzek is plenty young enough to right the ship.
MLB.com's postseason selections
Arenado: An argument could certainly be made for outfielder Tim Wheeler, who hit 33 homers for Tulsa, but Arenado's RBIs, his strikeout rate (just 53 in 517 at-bats) and his age (20) for his level gave him the edge.
Chad Bettis, RHP: The 2010 second-rounder went to the California League in his first full season and was the hitter-friendly league's Pitcher of the Year. Bettis was second in the league and the system in ERA, while holding hitters to a .225 average and striking out 9.8 per nine innings.