Rockies draft hard-throwing prep lefty
Hurler Matzek taken at No. 11, outfielder Wheeler at 32
DENVER -- The Rockies chose left-hander Tyler Matzek from Capistrano Valley (Calif.) High School with their first first-round pick, No. 11 overall, in the Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft on Tuesday afternoon.
Matzek, 6-foot-3 and 185 pounds, has committed to the University of Oregon, but many Draft projections had him in the top 10. His best pitch is a fastball that tops out at about 94 mph. He's also able to command it and take a little off when necessary.
"At the time of our selection Tyler was the top player on our board because we believe he has a chance to be a premium left-handed starter," Rockies vice president of scouting Bill Schmidt said in a club press release.
This past season, Matzek, 18, went 11-1 with a 0.96 ERA -- including five shutouts -- and 106 strikeouts in 86 innings, and he hit .408 with eight home runs and 32 RBIs. He played first base in addition to pitching.
"Oregon told me that I'll play first base," Matzek said during an MLB Network interview. "So we'll see what Colorado has to say."
The Rockies concluded the first round by selecting speedy outfielder Tim Wheeler from Cal State Sacramento. Wheeler hit .385 with 18 home runs and 72 RBIs this year, after hitting just nine homers in his first two years of college. In his three-year career, Wheeler succeeded on 38 of his 49 steal attempts.
It marks the first time the Rockies have chosen a high school pitcher with their top selection since 2000. That was Matt Harrington of Palmdale (Calif.) High School, who never signed after a negotiation that turned bitter. Harrington's career had several fits and starts but never materialized.
The Rockies chose a high school pitcher, Lafayette (Ky.) righty Chaz Roe, as a sandwich pick between the first and second rounds in 2005. Matzek is the first high school player selected with the top pick since infielder Chris Nelson in 2004.
Pre-Draft reports suggested that Matzek also could be difficult to sign. Baseball America, citing multiple club sources, reported recently that Matzek wanted "precedent-setting money." That means a bonus beyond the $7 million given to high schoolers Josh Beckett and Rick Porcello. Matzek will be represented by Newport Beach, Calif.-based Legacy Sports, which is headed by agent Greg Genske.
On the Major League roster, right-hander Aaron Cook (second round, 1997) is the only pitcher the Rockies selected out of high school. But the club doesn't fear high schoolers in general and has selected several early in recent Drafts. The best example is third baseman Ian Stewart, the top pick in 2003 and, like Matzek, an Orange County product. Stewart went to La Quinta High School in Westminster, Calif.
The Rockies' top choice last year, Eastern Kentucky left-hander Christian Friedrich, is having a strong first full season with the club's Class A Minor League teams. With Class A Asheville, Friedrich went 3-3 with a 2.18 ERA, with 66 strikeouts to 18 walks in eight starts. Friedrich has no record but a 2.77 ERA in his first two starts at Class A Modesto.
The Rockies went with a pitcher at the top of the previous three Drafts, but they have had injury misfortune with the two before Friedrich. Vanderbilt righty reliever Casey Weathers was rising quickly until suffering an elbow injury in last year's Arizona Fall League play that required Tommy John ligament replacement surgery.
Their 2006 top choice, Stanford righty Greg Reynolds, has dealt with various injuries in the shoulder and upper back just below his shoulder throughout his pro career. Reynolds pitched briefly in the Majors last season but struggled. He is currently on Triple-A Colorado Springs' disabled list.
The last Draft to produce a member of the current roster was 2005 -- shortstop Troy Tulowitzki out of Long Beach State. Wheeler is the first college player to go in the first round since then.
Two players widely thought to have been liked by the Rockies went before the team's turn came. The Orioles selected Matthew Hobgood, a big right-hander from Norco (Calif.) High School, fifth overall, and the Reds selected Michael Leake, a right-hander from Arizona State, eighth overall.
Compensation Round A -- Rex Brothers, LHP, Lipscomb University: Brothers was gaining as much "helium" as any pitcher in the Draft class as the spring wore on. He'd always been intriguing because of his arm strength that delivers a fastball that can touch 96-97 mph and a pretty good slider. He took a leap up this season, thanks to a better understanding of how to pitch and the ability to find the strike zone more consistently.
Round 2 -- Nolan Arenado, 3B, Lake Forest (Calif.) El Toro High School: Arenado's El Toro squad entered the season ranked No. 2 in the nation by Baseball America and went 22-6. Arenado led the way with a .571 batting average, five home runs, 14 doubles and a triple. Arenado has experience at catcher, but Schmidt said the Rockies want to see him at third base.
Round 3 -- Ben Paulsen, 1B, Clemson: Paulsen batted .367 with 95 hits, 18 doubles, four triples, 13 home runs and 61 RBIs for the Tigers in 2009. Schmidt said the Rockies like his athletic ability, which means he can move from first base if necessary.
Thomas Harding is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.