Today, we continue our look at some of the sleepers John picked this preseason in his The Baseball Prospect Book 2016. This one, I will admit I didn’t really understand, but at the end of the day Phil Maton had a fantastic season, reaching Triple-A in just his second year.
Phil Maton was a four-year starter at Louisiana Tech, pitching quite well at times but having some problems with consistency.
Maton stands at 6-foot-3 and 220 pounds, so he has the build of a successful pitcher. As John mentioned, he was a middling pitcher at Louisiana Tech. He wasn’t drafted out of high school, nor was he drafted after his junior year. Nothing about his stats really jumped off the page to wow you, finishing his career with a nice senior season. He went 4-4, lowering his ERA to 3.68 from his 2014 4.98. He had impressive strike out numbers (9.2 per nine, a Conference USA best of 90) and walk numbers as well (1.9 per nine). The San Diego Padres liked what they saw and snuck him into their 20th round selection.
Drafted in the 20th round last year, he was converted to bullpen work by the Padres and thrived, shutting down the Northwest League easily and giving hope that he can rise quickly through the system.
Perhaps the solution to Maton’s inconsistencies wasn’t more, but less. He was absolutely dominant in his Northwest League debut last year, going 4-2 and converting six of eight save opportunites behind a 1.38 ERA. The more revealing stat in a reliever (in my opinion) is his WHIP, as it tells whether they keep runners at bay in their brief appearances in a game. Maton’s was a dominant 0.86, and his 0.51 FIP showed that the few runners that did score against him may not have been so much his fault. He also posted an insane 58-to-5 strikeout-to-walk rate over just 32.2 innings.
This season, he continued his dominance and made it all the way to Triple-A for El Paso’s PCL Championship run. He pitched the bulk of the season in the hitter friendly California League, where he converted nine of eleven save opportunites. The big righty struck out 47 over 33 innings, walking eight, but limiting opposing batters to a .149 average.
He made five appearances in the PCL regular season before he got his first taste of championship baseball and thrived under pressure. He pitched 4.1 innings of postseason baseball, allowing three hits, no runs, no walks and striking out five. He record three consecutive saves, including the biggest one of his career in the PCL Championship game against a loaded Oklahoma City roster.
Maton’s fastball has average velocity for a right-hander at 90-93 MPH but it plays up because he mixes it efficiently with a good cutter and an occasional curveball. He has a change-up but this was erratic in college and he didn’t need it much in the pro bullpen.
MLB Pipeline calls his go-to pitch an "invisible fastball" because it has very late life and disappears on hitters. He uses it effectively inside the strike zone and has shown it is a successful pitch across every level of the minor leagues. His cutter sits in the mid-80s and has become an effective out pitch, and the curveball has enough spin and swing-and-miss to it that it has become a reliable enough weapon to be considered close to average.
CONCLUSION: Maton woke up. Cross him off the sleeper list, because now it is San Diego or bust. He has pitched five, one-hit, shutout innings in the Arizona Fall League, going two innings in two of his last three appearances, showing he can be an effective late inning guy as well as closer. His FIP was a little more erratic, but never worrisome, at the higher levels, but he also showed he was able to keep runners at bay. There were discussions of moving Maton back into the rotation before the season, but it appears they chose correctly. He has the composure to be an effective closer at the next level, but he could break in more quickly as an eighth inning guy. It will be interesting to see if he breaks spring training on the Opening Day roster, but barring injury, Maton’s big league career is not too far away.