Name: Matt West
Position: Relief Pitcher
DOB: November 21, 1988 (24)
Acquired: 2007 Amateur Draft, 2nd Round (Bellaire H.S., Texas)
The feature portion of this article initially appeared on Lone Star Dugout on August 28, shortly after West underwent Tommy John surgery. The in-depth scouting report can be found below the feature story.
Coming into spring training last March, right-handed reliever Matt West appeared to be on the fast track to the major leagues.
West entered his first big league camp as a member of the Rangers' 40-man roster. After beginning the previous spring training as a position player, he was moved to the mound in late March 2011. It didn't take long for him to stand out.
The former second-round pick––as a third baseman––showed promise during an experimental bullpen session near the end of camp in 2011, throwing his fastball up to 94 mph and showing a repeatable delivery. Within a month, he was pitching in extended spring training games and flashing mid-to-upper 90s heat while spinning a plus breaking ball.
West ended up making 23 relief appearances at short-season Spokane and one with High-A Myrtle Beach in 2011. Over 27 innings, he yielded 26 hits, walked just one, and struck out 35. But most importantly, he showed an almost immediate feel for pitching on top of his two wipeout offerings.
West was so impressive on the mound that year that the Rangers were forced to place him on their 40-man roster, protecting him from the Rule 5 Draft––despite the fact that he'd pitched only one inning at the full-season levels. With dominant stuff and strike-throwing ability, he looked like a pitcher who could fly through the system in 2012.
But West's 2012 campaign never got off the ground. The 24-year-old prospect was scratched just prior to his first spring training outing and diagnosed with a sprained UCL in his right elbow on March 3. He was initially shut down from baseball activities for six weeks of elbow strengthening.
Injuries are often an issue with position players-turned-pitchers. A number of pitchers suffer at least one setback after converting, including current Rangers right-hander Alexi Ogando. Although Ogando hasn't experienced any arm troubles in three seasons with the big league club, he missed the entire 2008 campaign in the Dominican Summer League while nursing an injury.
"(Injuries) happen to most converted pitchers," Rangers rehab pitching coordinator Keith Comstock said during a June interview. "It's not the normal pitchers that we see with the big setbacks or step-backs that we have.
"Some of those setbacks are caused by when we get into a slider––by the time we work into a slider. Then the new muscles start kicking in. Or he starts throwing it properly and it hurts. So we do have those kind of things. But when it's a converted guy, then we have to really watch it because it's a new arm. I don't care if he's been in pro ball for five years, but it's a new pitcher and it's a new pitching arm."
Comstock says he has experienced at least one injury setback with nearly every converted pitcher he's worked with.
"You name all our converted guys, and at some point, we've had issues with them," he said. "Some have been long term, and some have been real short. You stop throwing, pick up a ball, and say, ‘Hey, you're doing this wrong.' Sometimes it can be a PFP arm path that's messing them up."
In addition to the breaking ball often being an injury risk for converted pitchers, Comstock also believes West's changeup may have played a role in his elbow issues.
"His changeup, we've kind of modified," he said. "That might have been causing some of his issues, so we've had to back off on that. He had a great changeup. When you take away a weapon from a guy like that, then he had to understand that part of the game."
West remained in Arizona with Comstock until mid-June, when he shipped out to High-A Myrtle Beach. Before joining the Pelicans, he didn't have an opportunity to work out the kinks in game action because of the break between extended spring training and the rookie-level Arizona League.
The 6-foot-1, 200-pound hurler ended up making 17 appearances for Myrtle Beach between June 17 and August 12. During the two-month stretch, he was shut down a handful of times in an effort to both rest his elbow and get his mechanics back on track.
"Just right now, I don't think it's coming as natural and as easy for him," said Pelicans pitching coach Brad Holman last July. "But I think we've definitely made some strides in the right direction. It's just a matter of him throwing pain-free. He's getting a little jab in his elbow. So to get that out of there is our first course of action."
West's occasional elbow pain and struggle to repeat his mechanics led to some command issues in High-A. After walking just one batter last summer, he issued 16 walks (and allowed 16 runs) in 20.1 innings for Myrtle Beach. While his fastball reached up to 98 mph at times, he most often pitched in the 92-95 mph range.
Rangers minor league pitching coordinator Danny Clark says that when West initially injured his arm last March, the MRI didn't show that he would require Tommy John surgery at that time.
"Matt obviously came out of spring training, where he had basically strained (his elbow)," Clark said. "The doctors and our medical staff didn't feel like it was, at the time, where we felt like he needed the surgery. When he came back to Myrtle Beach, he said he kept feeling something in his elbow."
But after West's final DL stint in Myrtle Beach, the Rangers sent him to the Metroplex to meet with team doctor Keith Meister.
"We went and got a second––basically got a new MRI with Dr. Meister," Clark said. "And then obviously when Dr. Meister went in and looked at his elbow, he felt we needed to––and I reckon he talked with Matt––he and Matt decided that they wanted to go ahead with it."
The former third baseman went under Dr. Meister's knife on August 22. He'll now spend the entire offseason and––at the very least––most of the 2013 campaign rehabbing his elbow at the Rangers' minor league complex in Arizona.
Counting the 2012 season, West figures to lose practically two full seasons because of his elbow troubles. But Clark believes the rehab process could become a positive in the long haul––if West takes the entire process seriously.
"I think it's going to be an advantage for Matt," he said. "When we flipped him to a pitcher (in 2011), he was basically just picking the ball up and throwing it as a third baseman. To be able to understand his body, to get to understand the throwing program––basically being able to take it at a slower pace and being able to learn things as he goes to being a complete pitcher.
"I think it's going to help him in the long run. Obviously I know Matt is frustrated right now, and rightfully so. But in the same regard, I think if he takes the rehab the way we hope he takes it, then I think it's actually going to bring him back as a better, complete pitcher."
Only time will tell if West ultimately makes a full recovery from the Tommy John surgery and returns to his 2011 form. If he does, he still has a chance to work in the back end of a major league bullpen. But it's no certainty, and the 2012 season was an all-around frustrating grind for a prospect who appeared to be on the fast track at the start of spring training.
Also See: West down with sprained UCL (March 4, 2012)
West activated from DL (June 17, 2012)
Lone Star Dugout Q&A: Danny Clark (June 26, 2012)
Lone Star Dugout Q&A: Keith Comstock (June 30, 2012)
Lone Star Dugout Q&A: Brad Holman (July 11, 2012)
West placed on DL (July 19, 2012)
West undergoes Tommy John surgery (August 28, 2012)
Lone Star Dugout Q&A: Danny Clark (August 31, 2012)
Repertoire: Fastball, Slider, Changeup.
Fastball: West jumped on the mound near the conclusion of spring training in 2011 and flashed plus velocity from the outset, hitting 94 mph in an experimental bullpen session. When he got into game action, he showed a 70-grade fastball that sat between 94-97 mph (touching a tick higher) with late life when thrown down in the zone. A good athlete, West was able to repeat his delivery and throw strikes; he walked only one batter (while fanning 35) in 27 innings. Though his within-the-zone command was loose at times and less developed, it also projected as plus with further refinement.
Although the West of last season showed plus velocity, he did so while struggling to command his fastball and repeat his mechanics––likely a product of the discomfort in his elbow. He worked at 91-93 mph in some outings, 92-96 at other times (sitting 93-94), and even reached up to 98. If West fully recovers from the surgery, there's no reason to believe the velocity will vanish. While he's a good athlete, the question is whether he'll be able to pick up a baseball and show the feel for mechanics and command/control that he had in 2011.
Other Pitches: When healthy in 2011, West attacked hitters with a plus low-80s slider that showed plus-plus potential––giving him the projection for two 70-grade offerings that would profile nicely at the back end of a bullpen. His slider velocity and break differed at times during the course of the year; at instructs, it had excellent depth/tilt with sharp, late break––almost like a power two-plane curveball. He commanded the breaking ball well all season, throwing it for strikes with ease. West also flashed promise with a little-used changeup, but that pitch was shelved as he experienced arm troubles in 2012.
Projection: As is the case with any pitcher coming off major surgery, West's projection is cloudy at present. There's no doubt that pitchers have a high success/rebound rate following Tommy John surgery these days, but there's also a very limited track record to base any projection off with West. If the right-hander returns to showing the stuff, command, and mechanical package that he flashed in 2011, there's no reason to believe he can't continue flying through the minors and become a late-inning reliever at the big league level. That's no sure thing, however, and until he gets back on the mound at 100 percent health, the projection is really anybody's guess.
2013 Outlook: West will spend the entire 2013 season rehabbing his surgically repaired elbow at the Rangers' minor league complex in Arizona. He underwent Tommy John surgery on August 22 of last year and, if the rehab process is setback-free, he could make a return to game action at fall instructional league. Either way, West probably won't be back at full-strength until the start of the 2014 campaign.
|2007||AZL Rangers (RK)||.301||103||1||0||17||21||1/4||9||21||.397||.388|
|Myrtle Beach (A+)||0-0||1.0||1||0||0||0.00|
|2012||Myrtle Beach (A+)||0-3||20.1||18||16||14||6.64|