Blue Jays prospect Matthew Boyd Reflects on the Value of Demotion in 2014
Getting to the Double-A level, where so much is proven, is considered one of the biggest jumps in professional baseball. For Toronto Blue Jays prospect Matthew Boyd, the promotion to Double-A was one that he embraced, but soon felt overwhelmed by. His approach began to change. His mind wasn’t on the game he’d played all his life; instead he’d lost touch with a very simple mantra all players learn to live by.
"The game is the same no matter what level. And I didn’t think it was the same game," he said Sunday. "That was the biggest thing working against me."
That mental struggle, as well as foot pain that he’d been playing through, led to consistent struggles. In six starts through May, he surrendered 20 earned runs.
"The second time I went up to Double-A, in July, and got three or four good outings, I felt a lot better. I gained a lot of confidence back," he said.
The idea that the game speeds up the higher the level sounds a bit mystical. But, realistically, players in Double-A will have more finely tuned instincts, sharpened through repetition, making them quicker to figure things out. Sink or swim thinking caught up to Boyd. Players talk about the change in atmosphere, and a more professional manner overall . Everything looks a bit more major league.
"The pace is different. And not just the level of hitters, but even what the locker rooms are like is different. I had to learn my routine," he explained.
Boyd’s journey began when the Blue Jays drafted the two-position player in 2013 in the sixth round out of Oregon State University. He went 11-4 with a 2.04 ERA for the season, while striking out 122 in 123 innings, and was named to the Baseball America All-America Third team and the All-Pac 12 First Team. He played first base and made an impact at the plate throughout high school and college, but he was fully converted to a starting pitcher as a senior for Oregon.
"It was time to focus completely on pitching. They didn’t want to burn me," he said.
He’d been a reliever through parts of college, but it’s the rotation where he feels most comfortable.
"You kind of control the game when you’re a starter, and I love that. You’re leaving your stamp on it. I could easily convert back to the pen if they need me to. But starting is a joy for me."
In his first season of pro-ball he split time between the Florida State and Midwest leagues, making just five starts, with 24 innings pitched. He started the 2014 season repeating Class-A Florida State League with Dunedin, but received an early season promotion to the the Eastern League. While some players can skip Triple-A, Double-A performance tends to dictate a lot.
Boyd struggled with New Hampshire, posting an 8.31 ERA in 22 innings in six starts in May. He was sent back to Dunedin, then moved back up to New Hampshire again in July. His ERA was still high in five starts there at 5.57 in 21 innings, but his K/BB was greatly improved at 23/2. He returned to Dunedin in August. Overall, he posted a 1.39 ERA with a 103/20 K/BB in 91 innings for Dunedin, but 6.96 ERA in 43 innings for New Hampshire, though his K/BB at least was good at 43/13. The problem was 55 hits in Double-A.
Boyd’s issues seemingly lock him up for a season back with New Hampshire. However, if fully healthy and consistent, he adds more depth to a system already deep with solid young arms.
Boyd’s difficult transition to Double-A, back to Class-A, then back up again was a lesson in keeping it simple. He’s focused now on developing his slider more, and picking up from where he left off in take-two of the Double-A experience.
"The second time around, I could see where I made mistakes, and I was able to build off of that. I got back to taking it one game at a time."
Sometimes an oft-used statement to sum up playing the game just works.