By Bob Wirz
To say that Tyler Matzek has done it all is not really understating the situation.
He was a very high draft choice (11th in the country), was considered among the top 25 pitching prospects in the game, threw a shutout in the major leagues, had physical and mental issues which once cost the left-hander nearly a full year without baseball, tried his hand in three previous organizations, and even took part in a pay-to-play winter league in an effort to jumpstart his career.
Did we mention control has often been a major nemesis?
Matzek has spent considerable time in the American Association each of the last two seasons, so if he can land a spot on this season’s Atlanta Braves the league in general and specifically the Texas AirHogs will have another bulletin board-worthy tale to share with every other major league baseball hopeful.
The 29-year-old is off to a very nice start with the Braves in Florida although he is working without a fulltime opportunity in their major league camp and must wait for the potential of a daily call from the minor league camp.
Matzek did not just visit the American Association for the proverbial cup of coffee. He went to Grand Prairie in 2018 and struck out 93 batters in 88.2 innings. He also walked an ugly 66. Then after settling for a showcase event during the offseason to draw attention, he signed a minor league deal with Arizona that only lasted until mid-May. He went back to the AirHogs last June 9, worked out of the bullpen exclusively this time, and put together a nice 2.64 earned run average with an impressive 53 strikeouts (19 walks) in only 30.2 innings.
The first time Atlanta called his name this spring he allowed one hit and picked up a strikeout while collecting four outs. The second time–the last one so far–he really sparkled, getting four strikeouts among the five consecutive batters he retired, including Boston stars Rafael Devers and J. D. Martinez. Perhaps the best news is he has not walked anyone so far this spring.
“It may be nothing,” the website TomahawkTake reported. “But it may also be worth taking a minute to get to know somebody (Matzek) who’s got a chance to cross the goal line in a long journey of perseverance.”
For the record, his time in the majors so far was with Colorado in ’14 and ’15 before he had even turned 25, and he went 8-12 with a 4.06 ERA in 25 games, all but one as a starter.
Thielbar Has 8 Strikeouts
Another veteran southpaw with a similar major league path also seems to be getting a good opportunity in the Grapefruit League.
Caleb Thielbar, who has been with the St. Paul Saints off and on for years, is trying to return to his previous home with the Minnesota Twins. The 33-year-old, who has a lifetime ERA of 2.74 for 109 major league appearances but has not been there since 2015, was tainted by one homer early on in spring training before settling down. He has been on the mound four times, allowing only two runs and two hits (one walk) while striking out an impressive eight in four full innings.
32 Have Worn Major League Uniforms
We detailed weeks ago that the American Association had 20 of its former players in major league spring training camps. At least 12 more have been brought over from minor league camps to suit up for at least one spring training game. Some get into games; others get only the experience of being in dugouts and bullpens alongside established major leaguers. The list so far, with the major league affiliation as well as their AA home(s) of the past:
Pitchers–Jason Creasy, Atlanta (St. Paul); James Dykstra, Toronto (Sioux City); Chris Lee, Milwaukee (St. Paul); Kevin Lenik, Boston (Kansas City); Brandon Mann, Texas (Fargo-Moorhead); Tyler Matzek, Atlanta (Texas); Kevin McCanna, Arizona (Sioux City); Dylan Rheault, Cincinnati (Winnipeg and Sioux City); Dylan Thompson, Boston (Sioux Falls);
Position Players–INF Ryan Court, Oakland (Sioux City); OF Keith Curcio, Boston (Kansas City); INF Ryan Fitzgerald, Boston (Gary);
Previously the chief spokesman for Baseball Commissioners Bowie Kuhn and Peter Ueberroth, Bob Wirz has been writing extensively about Independent Baseball since 2003. He is a frequent contributor to this site, has a blog, www.IndyBaseballChatter.com, and a book about his life, “The Passion of Baseball”, is available at Amazon.com or at www.WirzandAssociates.com.