On track to be a potential number one pick in the 2015 Draft, Matuella hit a potentially major bump in 2014 when he was diagnosed with spondylosis. A spinal condition that typically affects the lower back, it affects roughly 1 in 17 people but is the cause of nearly half of all cases of lower back pain in young athletes.
Though there are several factors involved in causing spondylosis, repetitive action (especially repeated hyperextension of the lower back) can lead to or worsen damage to the vertebrae. Stress fractures in one or more vertebrae may occur, and may lead to herniated or rupture discs in the more severe cases.
After this diagnosis, he endured a further setback the following Spring when he had Tommy John surgery. After all of this, the Rangers still saw enough potential in his electric arm to draft him in the third round and sign him for $2 million.
Matuella was able to make his pro debut in 2016, but after one start for Spokane he felt discomfort in his right elbow and was shut down for the duration. He finally returned to action on April 27th of this year after being promoted to the Class-A Hickory Crawdads, striking out five in an abbreviated 2-inning start.
His next two starts were less than ideal, then he went a combined 6 innings in his following two starts, giving up three hits and one run while striking out eight. It's been a mixed bag for Matuella, but his command of three excellent pitches makes him one to watch.
I had a chance to see him on the hill with the Crawdads recently and he did not disappoint.
Matuella deals a two-seamer with good movement in the mid-90's, sitting comfortably around 95-96, and attacks hitters aggressively. He also works with a hard curve around 80-82 with excellent two-plane break, as well as a plus slider in the 84-86 MPH range. Even with three plus pitches, Matuella has been working on a changeup that could end up becoming at least an average fourth pitch.
At 6'6”, 220, Matuella has an ideal pitcher's build. The concern comes from the amount of strain he can endure, both in his back and his surgically-repaired elbow. However, even if his spinal condition worsens, it can be surgically repaired with a reasonably favorable prognosis. He also has received very high marks for his work ethic, a plus considering his medical history.
All things considered, Matuella's ceiling could put him at the front of the Rangers' rotation. Assuming he can continue to string together solid starts and extend himself beyond five innings, he could move up the chain quickly.