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Wednesday, May 21, 2008 | By Alex Eisenberg

Major League Baseball Draft Preview: Pitcher Brian Matusz

Edited on August 13: I've been thinking about it, watched a little more video on Matusz, and I've decided to tweak my grading of him. I think his upside is a tick higher than the 8 I originally gave him. I don't see his upside as a true No. 1, but his breaking stuff is good enough where he could become a good No. 2. His stock will rise should he add velocity to his fastball.

Welcome to the first of Baseball-Intellect's 2008 Major League Baseball Draft Preview article, which will profile players for the 2008 MLB draft.

Today, I am reporting on a prospect that has me somewhat conflicted: college pitcher Brian Matusz. The 21 year old, 6-foot-4 lefty from San Diego is a slated to be a top-5 pick in the upcoming June draft.

We're going to weave back-and-forth between analyzing Matusz's mechanics and the quality of his stuff since I believe the two attributes are directly related to one another.

The biggest question I and many others have is about the quality of his fastball. Matusz's fastball sits anywhere from 88 - 92 mph and he can pump it up to 94 at times. Below is a clip of Matusz's fastball:

College baseball pitcher Brian Matusz

His velocity overall has been inconsistent and I think his mechanics are a big reason why. Let's compare him to what may be the best pitching prospect in baseball right now in Clayton Kershaw:

Side view of baseball prospect Brian Matusz Brian Matusz
Clayton Kershaw's Mechanics Clayton Kerhsaw

The camera angles of the clips are different, but we can still see the differences in the stride length of both players and the difference in separation between each player's torso and hips. Below is the key sequence of events:

Brian Matusz's stride length Matusz
Clayton Kershaw's stride length Kershaw

We can see Matusz has a noticeably shorter stride. This is problematic because his fastball loses that sneakiness quality to it. It doesn't have that late action where the pitch appears to increase in velocity just before it reaches home plate. Kershaw does have this quality in his fastball and one reason for this is because he is releasing the ball a little closer to home plate than Matusz because of the longer stride.

With that being said, Matusz makes up for this with a release point that is difficult to pick up.

What we can also see from the above side shot is the hip and torso separation. At the end of the animation, you have two ovals highlighting each pitcher's torso and hips once their pitching arm has reachied its ready-to-throw position. Which pitcher to you looks like he has created more separation between his torso and hips? In my view, that pitcher is Kershaw.

The significance of this separation is the tension created between the pitcher's upper body and hips; at foot plant, Kershaw's upper body is about to uncoil fury toward home plate, bringing the arm along with it. Matusz is much less efficient with his body in being able to produce velocity.

So there is a reason why Matusz, a projectable lefty, has yet to add much velocity to his fastball while in college.

Nevertheless, Matusz does possess two off-speed pitches that rate anywhere from above average to plus: his curveball and change-up.

His curveball has a sweeping action and is extremely tough on left handers, while he is able to maintain his arm speed on his change-up. Matusz also features a slider that can be rated as average.

Another major strength of Matusz is his control. Below you'll see a big reason why his control is so good:

Brian Matusz's front-side mechanics

Watch Matusz's glove; notice how it "firms" up as his front shoulder begins to open. This helps in having a consistent release point and lessens the stress put on his shoulder.

The "Safe" Pick

Matusz often gets labeled as the "safe" pick, which is a term I hate to put it bluntly. The reason is because there are no safe picks. The closest thing to a safe pick in the major league baseball draft would be an elite college hitter or pitchers with almost no question marks in terms of stuff, control, mechanics, and mental make-up. However, the label "safe" is often applied to pitchers that have an advanced feel for pitching, plus control, and are seemingly close to major league ready. I'm usually wary of players given the "safe" label.

On the other hand, Matusz does have a few things on his side. First, his numbers are excellent, sporting strong peripherals across the board. A big red flag for pitchers labeled as safe is the numbers don't match the overall hype being given to the player. In Matusz's case, they do.

Matusz also still has some projection left, so he could possibly add a few more MPH to his fastball as he matures and/or tweaks his mechanics. Add in good control and a couple of plus (or close to plus) pitches and Matusz does offer a lot to like.

Final Thoughts

You can find a No. 3 (or maybe even a No. 2) starter or an average everyday position player in the next few rounds. If I had a chance to draft a player that could be one of the premier position players or the pitcher who could anchor the rotation of a winning team instead of a safer, but lower upside pitcher with my top pick, I jump on that opportunity in a second.

Ultimately, whether a team settles on Matusz as their pick depends on the team's overall philosophy: the polished, close to MLB-ready, seemingly durable pitcher with less upside or the riskier pitcher with more upside and better stuff, which in this case, would be Aaron Crow. I pick Crow.

Grade:
8.5 Upside, Low Probability
6.5 Downside, Low Probability

For an explanation of the grading scale, please click here

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References for this article: Minor League Baseball

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