Matusz seasons command at college
University of San Diego lefty sharpens skills to top of draft
SAN DIEGO -- Command, stuff and character will propel most young pitchers into the draft but add southpaw to the equation and you're likely talking about a first-rounder.
Include some college seasoning on a still maturing 21-year-old frame and names will pop to the top-five range on most projected lists.
Such is the case with Brian Matusz, a left-handed starter who hopes he'll be pitching his University of San Diego Toreros into the College World Series next month.
"He's the No. 1 pitcher that I've had in my 21 years," said USD head baseball coach Rich Hill.
Matusz has been down this road before.
As one of the top high school pitchers in 2005, Matusz was projected as an early round selection. Questions of signability, when he reportedly told big league teams it would take at least $1 million to forego college, dropped him to the fourth round where he was taken by the Angels.
Passing on the pro contract, Matusz chose the collegiate route and left St. Mary's High School in Phoenix for the hilltop campus of USD and a chance to grow both on the field and off.
His development on the mound has been exceptional, taking a mid-to-high 80s fastball and adding velocity that allows him now to regularly hit the gun in the 90-92 mph range while tipping the outer edge at 95.
Matusz basically threw two pitches in high school, complementing his fastball with a plus curve but has since added two more, which Hill believes are superior.
"He's got a great changeup and he's developed an excellent cut fastball that acts like a slider," Hill said. "His curveball was his bread-and-butter pitch in high school. It's still a good pitch but the changeup and the cut fastball overtook those."
Matusz, who went 10-2 with a 2.05 ERA in 12 starts this year, said he spends more time working on his fastball and uses it to set up the rest of his repertoire but feels he has equal command with each.
"I don't think I have a best pitch. I use all four pitches in different sequences and at different times. I don't have one pitch that is my go-to," Matusz said. "I use all of them throughout the whole game consistently."
Matusz said getting to the point where he can command four different pitches and use them in any count for strikes is largely a product of his time at USD and working with assistant coach Eric Valenzuela.
"I've developed physically. I've put on 30 pounds since my freshman year. I've been facing college competition, which is huge," Matusz said. "I've developed two more pitches, the cutter and the changeup, which have been key additions to me becoming a well-rounded pitcher."
Both Matusz and Hill credit the weight room for the added bulk but also the athletic department's sports psychology program that incorporates breathing and visualization techniques.
"He is the poster boy of why you should go to college," Hill said. "Out of high school he was this sort of rail-thin guy with a good arm and a guy with a lot of upside. He came to college and had enough courage to turn down seven figures and obviously that is going to pay off for him."
Hill compared Matusz to Phillies starter Cole Hamels but with a better fastball and cutter. And while he may be capable of adding more velocity, Hill said his young starter will rely more on command, control and mechanics. Matusz struck out 122 and walked just 20 this year but Hill said the left-hander is more than a power pitcher.
"I think his secondary stuff is really what makes him but I think every one of his pitches is going to get better. The guy shaves once every two weeks. You look at him and he's still this baby-faced guy and it still looks like he hasn't grown into his body," Hill said. "He is not a finished product by any stretch of the imagination. Four-five years from now I think he's going to be (there)."
Tampa Bay holds the top pick in the First-Year Player Draft that will be held over two days, June 5-6. Matusz isn't expected to wait long for his phone call but he won't be sitting around.
First on his agenda over the next few weeks is the postseason. Matusz is starting Friday for the Toreros in the first game of a best-of-three matchup against Pepperdine to decide the West Coast Conference championship.
From there, he and his teammates are looking forward to the NCAA playoffs, where they hope to make a deep run to at least the World Series at Rosenblatt Stadium.
"This team is a very special team," Matusz said of USD that went 39-15 and 16-5 in the WCC. "The chemistry is great, everyone is good friends. As a team we've been getting better throughout the year. We want to compete for the National Championship. We know that is where we're going to end up."
The draft, meanwhile, is for others to decide.
"I don't focus on that at all. My focus is on our play and my play and our goal is to get to Omaha," Matusz said. "Success on the field will turn into good things in the draft and that is one thing that I don't focus on. Things will take care of themselves. Obviously it is exciting with all the hype but I try not to pay attention to it."
Mike Scarr is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.