Over the past several seasons the Mets have shown the fans how important pitching is to the organization. They have developed and brought up homegrown pitching prospects to debut with the team, with the likes of Jon Niese, Dillon Gee, Matt Harvey, Zack Wheeler, Jenrry Mejia, and Bobby Parnell. Each have shown signs of brilliance, but due to injuries, they have not been able to help the team put together winning seasons. But the Mets continue to add talented pitching prospects for insurance. And with how the Mets are developing each one of their skills, they may just be the right pieces to help bring a championship back to Queens.
One of these top pitching prospects is Steven Matz, who helped the Savannah Sand Gnats win the 2013 SAL Championship with a dominating pitching performance.
Matz was signed by the Mets in the 2nd round of the 2009 June Amateur Draft from Ward Melville, HS in East Setauket, NY. But it took him a few years before he would pitch his first game as a pro. The lefty injured his elbow while working out in extended spring training back in May 2010. The road to recovery took two years and I asked him how frustrating it was to be out of baseball for so long, “It was definitely a bummer when I found out that I needed Tommy John, but I realized it was time to go to work and get back on the field. It took a while but thankfully, it all paid off”, says Matz.
The young southpaw was correct; it actually did pay off, because even in his first season of pro baseball in 2012 with Kingsport, he showed why the Mets believed in his ability. In six games, he was 2-1 and 1.55 ERA, with 34 strikeouts in 29 innings. In 2013, he was promoted to Savannah and in 21 starts; he was 5-6 with a 2.62 ERA, 1 CG, 1 shutout, and 121 strikeouts in 106.1 innings pitched.
He helped lead the Sand Gnats through the playoffs with two dominating performances. In Game 2 of the first round he pitched 7.0 innings of one-hit ball with eight strikeouts and he didn’t give up a run in a 5-0 victory. In Game 4 of the Championship series, he allowed just four hits, recorded 9 strikeouts and didn’t give up an earned run in 5.2 innings, while earning the victory in both games to clinch both series.
When asked what was it like to be so dominating and be able to lead the team to victory, Matz said, ”It was an awesome feeling to pitch in both clinching games, that’s just kind of the way it felt. We would have felt comfortable throwing any of our guys on the clinching games, because that’s how dominant our whole pitching staff was. It was a great way to finish the season for our team. Personally I am glad I was able to finish strong, and ultimately help the team win a championship.”
Matz was picked by Baseball America at #20 on their top prospect list for the Sally League. He may be a few years away, but if he continues with his development, the Mets look to have another solid pitcher to add to their growing talent pool.
Enjoy my conversation with Matz about his journey in baseball:
David – Is there something that you would like to share with the Mets fans that they do not already know about you? Your interests, hobbies outside of baseball?
Steven - Even though I am from Long Island, NY, I enjoy the outdoors a lot. I love hunting and fishing, and I mostly picked these hobbies up after I started playing for the Mets, but now I am hooked.
David – What would it mean to you to be able to make your major league debut at Citi Field, knowing that your family and friends are not too far away on Long Island?
Steven - It would be pretty awesome if I could make my major league debut at Citi field. Not many people ever get that chance, let alone having your debut within an hour from your house. It would definitely make it easier on the family, because I know most likely all of them would be there. (My family are big baseball fans)
David – Who was a big influence for you while growing up and playing baseball?
Steven - My Dad was the biggest influence for me growing up. He spent hours upon hours at the field with me, and took me all around the country to play in tournaments, showcases or whatever it may be. I also see how hard he worked to give our family a good life, and he took that work ethic and instilled it in me and my siblings.
David – On the day that you were signed by the Mets in 2009, who was the first person you shared the news with?
Steven - Well I was sitting on my couch with my parents; I had a pretty good feeling that I was going to get picked, just not sure where or when. My aunt and uncle who live down the road had a bunch of people over their house. When I heard my name called, I went over there. It was a pretty exciting time.
David – In 2012, you played your first pro baseball season with Kingsport, what was the experience like to finally be on the field again?
Steven - Last year, to finally get back on the field felt great. I felt a little lost out there at first, but I was able to get my feet under me a little bit towards the end of the season. Kingsport is a great place to start a career, I feel. You have loyal fans, but not too many where there is tons of pressure. Also, we traveled to some cool places up in the Appalachian Mountains.
David – In 2013 with Savannah, you appeared in 21 games and pitched well in your first full pro season, what can you say attributed to your turnaround?
Steven - I don’t know what really made me turn the corner; I thank God for my health this year as I pretty much did the same thing I do every year as far as the off-season. I know a big contributor, as far as staying on the field and rebounding in between starts, was our trainer Tom Truedson. I knew Tom since 2009 and he’s seen the troubles I had with being able to stay out there and pitch. We had a good routine that he’d have me do and it helped a lot. Also Frank Viola worked with me on a routine as far as a throwing program; we sat down and put one together and it helped me feel good for each start.
David – Can you describe the feeling of winning the South Atlantic League Championship, this past season with Savannah?
Steven - The feeling of winning the championship really is a great feeling. A lot of people were unsure of how we were going to do without our sluggers like Jayce Boyd and Kevin Plawecki. It was cool to see other guys step up. We all worked hard all year, and our manager Luis Rojas kept with us and pushed us every day. I have never won a big championship like that before, and it was a great feeling to finish out on top.
David – What teammate has impressed you the most this season, and who should Mets fans be most excited about seeing in the future?
Steven - It’s hard to put a finger on any one guy because we had some many good performers this season. Jayce Boyd, however, is an unbelievable hitter. He’s fun to watch hit, and he is such a smart hitter. I like to pick his brain on what he is thinking while he is up there at the plate.
David – Is there a Met manager or coach who has made an impact in your approach to the game and helped elevate your performance?
Steven - Having Frank Viola as my pitching coach this year was a true blessing. Having a 15 or 16 year big league career, he has seen it all. He really knows how to optimize a pitching staff. He knew what each of us were capable of and he didn’t let us do any less. And it showed.
David – With the success you have had in your brief time in the minors; do you feel like you are on track with the goals you set for yourself? If so, what are you expecting for 2014?
Steven - Yes I do feel I am back on track. This past season I set a goal of 100 innings and including the playoffs I tallied 119 innings. For next season I would like to bypass the 130 inning mark, and let the rest take care of itself.
David – Moving forward, what stands between you and the big leagues? What do you specifically need to work on as a player, and improve upon, in order to be ready to compete on the big stage?
Steven - I think there are a few things that stand right now, the main being just the experience. Just logging innings would definitely polish all I have right now. I would also like to find more consistency of my breaking pitch. This season I did lack a little confidence out there that Frank Viola and I talked a lot about. Confidence in every pitch and knowing that I am able to go out there and dominate. Because you have to know you can before you actually do.
David – How will you prepare over the winter; can you describe your workout regimen?
Steven - I work out in Garden City, NY, at the Professional Athletic Performance Center. We have a great group of pro guys that go there like Cam Maron, and other guys from different organizations. After about a month of rest or so, it’s time to get back to work out there.
Thank you Steven for allowing me a glimpse into your journey and sharing it with the Mets fans. I am very excited about what can be of Matz career. He is a very good pitcher with great potential and in a few seasons can make a major impact to the Mets rotation. Maybe by then Harvey will be back in full force and the Mets will have a very good problem, enough pitching to go after a crown.