On Saturday, I hopped over to Chapel Hill to see Duke righthander Michael Matuella take on North Carolina. Limited to 39 pitches as he works his way back from a strained forearm, the 6-foot-6, 220-pounder showed the same caliber of stuff that scouts have seen since intrasquads last month.
His fastball sat 93-94 mph in his first inning before settling in at 90-92 in the second and third frames, which has been the customary velocity drop-off for him so far this year. In his second time through the Tar Heels lineup, he began relying more on his offspeed stuff, which included a 79-81 slider, mid-70s curveball and 84-85 changeup. The slider is easy to project as a future plus pitch thanks to its late bite and solid depth, while the curveball remains a work in progress as he learns to stay on top of it. He also got a couple of swings-and-misses with his changeup, although it’s too firm and he isn’t comfortable throwing it above the lower third of the plate. With pro instruction, however, he’ll learn to achieve a greater velocity differential from his fastball and the pitch could become solid-average.
What’s most important for Matuella though is proving that he’s capable of shouldering a starting pitcher’s workload. He started just seven games as a freshman as he split time in the bullpen, was limited to 11 starts in his sophomore campaign as he missed a month with a lat strain, and then didn’t throw at all this past summer and fall as he dealt with a back condition called spondylosis (a defect in the connection between vertebrae). With the potential for three or more above-average pitches – including a fastball that ranged between 93-96 and touched 98 previously – his ceiling is a front-of-the rotation starter. But to justify expending a top five pick on him, teams must be convinced he can handle volume.
Here are some other noteworthy weekend performances:
- Vanderbilt righthander Walker Buehler made his second start of the year on Sunday after being sidelined the first couple of weeks with elbow soreness. He sat 92-94 mph and touched 96 with an 11-to-5 curveball that registered between 79-81, allowing four hits and one earned run over four innings. Although his 6-foot-1, 165-pound frame isn’t an ideal starting pitcher’s build, he offers a fastball and curveball that both grade as future plus with a changeup that flashes above-average, giving him front-end potential. I wish there was less effort in his motion, but that will become less of a concern as fills out his wiry, athletic frame.
- LSU shortstop Alex Bregman went 5-for-13 without no strikeouts in three games at the Houston College Classic while showing surprising range and athleticism for a guy that many scouts say will have to shift over to second base in pro ball. The bat, however, is his carrying tool, so if he continues showing the contact ability with gap power that he has displayed over the past two seasons, he should land safely in the first round.
- In one of the weekend’s best pitching matchups, Texas A&M righthander Grayson Long dueled with Houston righthander Jake Lemoine on Saturday. Long won the day with the best start of his career, shutting down the Cougars over seven scoreless innings and allowing just three hits with 10 punch-outs. His fastball velocity was average at 90-91 mph, touching 93, but he pounded the zone by throwing 70 of his 95 pitches for strikes. He’ll need to sharpen his slider and gain a better feel for his changeup, but with a projectable 6-foot-5, 215-pound frame, fluid motion and clean arm circle, he’s within reach of the top 50 picks.
- For the exception of UC Santa Barbara righthander Dillon Tate, perhaps no player has boosted his draft stock like Rhett Wiseman has. The Vanderbilt outfielder went 7-for-13 with his second home run of the season to raise his line to .419/.500/.661 in his first 15 games. His above-average hittability makes him a candidate for the top five rounds, but he doesn’t profile cleanly, lacking the requisite power for left field, the range for center, and the arm strength for right.
- A pair of hard-throwing righthanded closers impressed over the weekend in TCU’s Riley Ferrell and Dallas Baptist’s Brandon Koch. Ferrell picked up the save against UCLA on Saturday and another save against Vanderbilt on Sunday, touching 96 in his first outing before dipping to 92-93 in his second outing with a wipeout 82-85 slider. Koch meanwhile finished a 9-8 victory against Oral Roberts on Saturday, fanning seven batters in 2 1/3 innings on the strength of a fastball that reaches the upper-90s.