Fast forward four seasons, and Matzek is probably right where he should be in his development. He is making progress toward refining and repeating his delivery, improving his command and control and trying to become more consistent.
There is little doubt about Matzek's arm strength. But can he repeat good mechanics that yield control? Can he throw pitches where he wants to again and again?
The Rockies signed the 6-foot-3, 210-pound Matzek directly from Capistrano Valley High School in Mission Viejo, Calif.
Matzek dominated as a prep star. In his final year, he threw 86 2/3 innings and compiled an ERA of 0.97. He had a record of 13-1 that included five shutouts in 14 starts. He struck out a whopping 106 hitters while walking 33. Opponents hit just .144 against him that year.
Matzek was a prized left-handed starter, the second one selected in that Draft following Mike Minor by the Atlanta Braves as the seventh pick overall.
Matzek is No. 13 on the Rockies' Top 20 Prospect list.
Matzek began his career at age 19 pitching for Asheville in the Class A South Atlantic League. It was an aggressive assignment, but he threw to a very fine 2.92 ERA in 18 starts. Over 89 1/3 innings pitched, Matzek yielded only 62 hits and 31 runs. While he struck out 88, he walked 62, or almost seven hitters every nine innings. Of course, that's too many.
But that fine first year, when he had a record of 5-1, may have caused false hopes that Matzek would be ready for Major League action quicker than most.
The following season, Matzek returned to Asheville before being promoted to Class A Advanced Modesto. He had a combined ERA of 6.22 in 22 starts. He yielded fewer hits than innings pitched during the season, giving up 79 hits in 97 innings. But he walked 96, or almost nine batters per nine innings. Command and control were again an issue.
Matzek scuffled the most with his control while pitching at Modesto. In fact, he issued an average of 12.5 walks per nine innings in his 33 innings with the California League club.
Not unlike many young pitchers -- and especially left-handers -- it has taken some time for Matzek to harness his full repertoire of pitches. But his progress is evident.
This past season at Double-A Tulsa, Matzek reduced his walk rate to 4.8 per nine innings over 142 1/3 innings pitched. His ERA was down to 3.79. He threw to a WHIP of 1.56, down from a 1.61 mark the year before.
This fall, I watched Matzek pitch for the Salt River Rafters in the Arizona Fall League. He worked exclusively out of the bullpen, throwing 11 2/3 innings in 10 games.
Matzek was selected as a member of the Fall Stars East Division team.
Pitching primarily in the seventh inning, Matzek finished the fall with a 3.86 ERA and a WHIP of 1.46. He yielded seven walks while striking out 13. He earned three holds for his team.
In most instances, Matzek threw with a fairly easy motion. When he fell behind in counts, it was because he landed toward first base, causing his shoulder to "open up" on his release, throwing away from the target. He was pitching more across his body.
Matzek threw his fastball as low as 87-88 mph in the early fall. When I saw him later, he was consistently at 93 mph with the same pitch.
His biting slider was another pitch that gained steam further into the season. Matzek threw that pitch from 78 mph early to 86 mph in mid-November.
Matzek completes his arsenal with a cutter, a curveball and a changeup. He had varying degrees of success with each, but they are effective weapons of his complete repertoire.
With his arm strength and mix of pitches, Matzek has the arsenal to be a rotation starter. However, if he can come into games in relief and get hitters out, that may be a suitable role for his strengths. He can always return to starting.
I believe Matzek will find more consistent, effective success if he's used in relief. But regardless of his role, a consistent release point and improved command will help Matzek hasten his development as an effective pitcher.