The Situation: The Mets, after getting off to a 13-3 start, have become a leaking vessel taking on more water than it can toss back into the National League ocean. Since then, they’ve gone 23-34, have been decimated by injuries, tinkered with a six-man starting rotation, promoted another rookie (Noah Syndergaard), demoted a veteran (Dillon Gee) and still haven’t been able to right the ship. Now they are promoting top remaining prospect Steven Matz from Las Vegas to join their starting rotation.
Background: The Mets made Matz, a local boy from Long Island, their second round pick in 2009, but before he could ever step on the mound for one of their affiliates he went down with Tommy John surgery that cost him both the 2010 and 2011 seasons. Since returning to both health and the mound, however, he’s shown why the Mets were correct to make an investment on the kid from their own backyard—cruising up the minor league ladder with ease and rapidity.
Scouting Report: Matz is built to be in a big league rotation, with a solid foundation supporting an ideal 6’2” frame and a quick left arm capable of creating easy velocity. Gone is the effort that once resided in his delivery and raised concerns about his ability to remain in the rotation. Instead, it’s been replaced by smooth, low-effort mechanics that create easy velocity.
The calling card for Matz is his fastball, which sits comfortably in the low 90’s and can touch 95 mph. He’s more than just velocity, however, as he has a strong track-record of throwing strikes and continually improving in-zone command. Matz also offers two quality secondary pitches: a curveball that has been inconsistent at times this year but flashes plus potential, and a change-up that he throws consistently for strikes and offers deception thanks to his quick arm.
The entire package adds up to a potential mid-rotation starter for Matz, someone who, in his prime, can slot in right behind rotation stalwart Matt Harvey (and perhaps Noah Syndergaard) in the pecking order.
Immediate Big League Future: Matz has handled every test along the long minor league path as well as could be expected from any pitcher, let alone one who missed his first two seasons due to injury. His secondary offerings can still be inconsistent from start to start or even inning to inning, but when they’re on, he has the ability to miss a significant number of bats. Like so many young pitchers, he’s likely to have starts where he dominates mixed in with a few clunkers, but such is the risk when you rely on recently minted major leaguers. However, his track record speaks for itself, and it hasn’t taken Matz long to make an adjustment wherever he’s been—which bodes well for his transition to the big leagues. —Jeff Moore
Fantasy Impact: No pitching prospect has seen their fantasy stock rise more substantially this season than Matz, who has flat-out dominated at Triple-A Las Vegas, a notorious hitters paradise, over the past three months. His stellar performance, leading the Pacific Coast League in innings pitched (90.1), earned run average (2.19 ERA) and strikeouts (94) this season, has elevated him into the elite tier of starting pitching prospects in the game, alongside Noah Syndergaard, Lucas Giolito, Dylan Bundy and Julio Urias.
The burning questions swirling around Matz, who ranked 48th on fantasy czar Bret Sayre’s Top 101 Dynasty League Prospects list coming into the year, regarded whether or not he could overcome the health issues which had plagued him throughout his professional career, and whether or not his pure stuff was good enough to elevate him into a front-of-the-rotation starter.
He’s answered the durability concerns over the last two years, but the stuff isn’t going to front a Major League rotation anytime soon. That’s not a knock on Matz, who Sayre wrote, “could turn out to be the version of Jonathon Niese that Mets fans always wanted to see—with solid SP3 valuations and the potential for a shiny ERA in that park.” The 24-year-old’s prolonged dominance at the upper levels of the minor leagues gives him a considerably higher floor than most pitching prospects. Realistically, the southpaw unlikely to evolve into a true “fantasy ace” in the mold of Clayton Kershaw or Madison Bumgarner as some of the more excitable Big Apple media outlets have forecasted in the past.
The Mets have elected to go with a six-man rotation for the foreseeable future, which may limit Matz to just 10-15 starts over the remainder of the season, but fantasy owners should not underestimate the type of impact he could potentially have in those outings given his propensity to rack up a high volume of strikeouts and the offensive wasteland that is the NL East. Even if he remains in Queens the remainder of the regular season, he’s unlikely to see more than about 85 innings—which would put him up around 175 for the season, 35 more than his previous career high from 2014. Given his success in Las Vegas and the division/park he’ll pitch in, he could see a sub-3.50 ERA with around 60-65 strikeouts the rest of the way. Just don’t expect too many wins because, well, have you seen that Mets’ offense?
If you’ve been saving your FAAB to invest in a starting pitching prospect, Matz is the type of pitcher you push all of your chips to the center of the table to acquire. There simply isn’t another pitching prospect on the verge of a call-up that will have this type of impact over the remainder of the season in re-draft leagues. He should be owned in just about all leagues right off the bat (including all dynasty formats), and makes for a great streaming play even in the shallowest formats if he is indeed getting the ball on Sunday at home against Cincinnati. In NL-only leagues, he’s likely to eclipse $30 in FAAB, so if you want him, you’re going to have to dig deep into those pockets and bid in the $35-40 range. —George Bissell
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