Mike Marcantonini and Mike Rankin interview Tyler Matzek following his CWL start
33 walks in 26.2 innings pitched – no matter the level of competition – is unacceptable. That was Tyler Matzek’s 2016 in 33 appearances out of the bullpen between the double-A and advanced-A affiliates of the Colorado Rockies.
Matzek, the 11th overall pick in the 2009 Major League Baseball amateur draft, found himself without an organization following his release out of spring training by the Chicago White Sox in 2017. The dramatic downturn in the highly-touted prospect’s career is perplexing, especially considering he compiled a 4.06 ERA in 25 appearances (24 starts) at the game’s highest level in 2014-15.
After spending nearly a year away from the game, Matzek has an opportunity to get his career back on track with a major league organization thanks in part to the California Winter League (CWL). The left-handed pitcher was extended a minor league contract with an invite to spring training by the Seattle Mariners on Wednesday, February 7 following his outing with the Palm Springs Chill.
Dan DiPace, who is a CWL instructor as well as Director of Scouting and Player Development of the San Rafael Pacifics, happened to stumble upon Matzek working out near Pasadena.
“I went through a bullpen up in the Pasadena area,” Matzek said. “DiPace was there, he saw me throw and was all about it. He invited me out to this league and I thought, ‘Yeah, it looks like a great opportunity for me to get out, play against some guys and get some exposure.’ Dan was the one who found me.”
DiPace allowed Matzek to ease his way back into game action in the CWL and kept close tabs on the left-hander throughout each of his four starts. Overall in the California Winter League, the new Mariners pitcher allowed two runs in 10 innings pitched. More importantly, Matzek was able to command his array of pitches that resulted in 17 strikeouts compared to three walks.
With the guidance of DiPace, Matzek was able to establish a routine and take advantage of the abundance of resources available at the California Winter League. The process allowed him to get his body ready for what will hopefully be close to eight months of baseball with a Major League organization.
“I’m kind of treating it more like an early spring training,” Matzek said of his time in Palm Springs. “I obviously don’t want to go out there throwing complete games and hurt my arm or anything like that, but we’ll build up and go from there. Every day is another opportunity to compete and get better.”
Inconsistency in Matzek’s command forced previous organizations to move on from the lefty, but a new approach in 2018 allows the first-round pick to reset.
“I changed up my lifting protocol,” Matzek shared. “Got a little bit more dynamic and tried to make it as athletic as possible. Loosened the body up a little bit and changed a couple things mechanically. Just tried to smooth everything out to make it as fluid as possible.”
Matzek always had the natural ability to compete in Major League Baseball, but a serious struggle with anxiety caused the former Rockies starter to reevaluate his standing as a competitor. In an effort to combat the mental illness, Matzek took appropriate action and leaned on those who assisted him throughout his career.
“I started working with a mental skills coach,” Matzek said. “He just gave me a solid foundation to chase after this dream.
“I think anybody who’s played baseball for a while have had people who have helped along the way. I’ve got a ton of them going back to my high school coach to pitching coaches to managers – they all give you some kind of information. It’s a culmination of their knowledge and what you try to absorb and understand from them and that shapes you into the ball player you can be.”
Although his time was brief compared to the 200-plus players looking to sign professional contracts, Matzek made the most out of his time in the California Winter League.
“It’s been great,” Matzek said. “Perfect weather, there’s good talent out here and it’s just been a really good experience.”
The goal for Matzek coming in to the California Winter League was to find a way back in a Major League organization. That goal was accomplished, and now he has a chance to reach what he calls his ultimate goal.
“The ultimate goal is to have 10 years in the big league and be a hall of famer,” Matzek said. “I mean, that’s everybody’s ultimate goal. If we’re not going for that, then what are we doing out here?”
Tyler Matzek and the rest of the Seattle Mariners pitchers and catchers will report to the Peoria Sports Complex in Arizona for spring training on February 14. The Mariners’ first exhibition game will be on
Friday, February 23 against the San Diego Padres.