Put shorts and a t-shirt on Steven Matz and Amed Rosario and run them through a tryout camp and they will wow even seasoned scouts. Just the speed alone, the 95 mph from Matz’s left arm, the elite get-up-and go from Rosario’s legs would impress.
It explains, among other things, why they receive so many chances in the major leagues. You don’t want to give up on that kind of talent too soon and see them hone the skill and blossom elsewhere.
But the arrival of David Peterson and Andes Gimenez has underscored what Matz and Rosario are not, which is instinctive players. Let’s not get carried away with three weeks of play in a bizarre season. Nevertheless, it is hard to miss that even as rookies Peterson and Gimenez display an ability to think the game and react in real time. There is a seasoned element about the way they are playing that still escapes the more experienced Matz and Rosario.
Peterson probably would not excite you more than Matz in the shorts and t-shirts, same as Gimenez to Rosario. But once a major league game begins, Peterson and Gimenez are showing the trait to adjust in real-time speed. After Gimenez played a Kawhi Leonard game Sunday against the Marlins by excelling in every area on the field, it was fascinating how quickly manager Luis Rojas spoke not about his bat or glove or legs (as impressive as they all were), but his baseball IQ.
“This kid is always on his toes physically and mentally,” Rojas gushed. I cannot imagine the same has ever been said about the physical specimens that are Rosario and Matz.
Much has been disappointing so far in this late-starting Mets season. But right near the top has been that Matz and Rosario have failed to carry strong second halves last year into success this year. It raises the possibility that the late months of 2019 were a tease; the tease that keeps you coming back for more.
Yet, even with the Matz tease the Mets signed Rick Porcello and Michael Wacha in the offseason, and had all the starters stayed healthy the plan was to make Matz the odd-man out to the bullpen. But Noah Syndergaard needed Tommy John surgery. Marcus Stroman hurt his calf, then opted out of this season. Michael Wacha landed on the injured list with an inflamed right shoulder.
The Mets needed Matz as much as ever to be a reliable now-No. 2 starter behind Jacob deGrom. Instead, through four starts, Matz led the majors in hits (25) and homers allowed (eight). He has been progressively worse in each start and has an 8.20 ERA, after Monday night when the Nationals produced three homers and eight runs in his 4 1/3 innings.
Questions have arisen if, in particular, he is telegraphing his off-speed pitches. But a scout who was watching the game cited the bigger problem was too many pitches down the middle and the tendency by Matz to still try to out-stuff his way out of trouble rather than out-think the opponent with better sequencing and location.
Even though he’s a Long Islander, is Matz like A.J. Burnett or Sonny Gray and would flourish in lower stress? Is the 29-year-old Matz like Al Leiter or Mike Minor, guys who fought health issues and the learning curve before becoming high-end lefty starters in their late twenties or early thirties, also in new locales? Or is he like Drew Pomeranz, a tease as a starter who only late last year with the Brewers and now with the Padres has found his calling as a fastball/curveball reliever (Matz’s two best pitches, by the way). The clock is ticking on declaring, since Matz can be a free agent after next season.
As for Rosario comps, is he Milwaukee’s Orlando Arcia, a toolbox shortstop who has not yet been able to harness that toolbox into consistent success? Or is he the White Sox’s Tim Anderson, like Rosario long on arms, legs and talent, who took a few years to develop into a high-end hitter? There was talk about moving Anderson to center field, just like Rosario.
Now with Gimenez present and Robinson Cano nearing a return from the IL, is the Mets’ best team Gimenez at short and Cano at second? Would Rosario’s best use be moving around the diamond at multiple positions and dropping from a regular to more a 350-400 at-bat player? He is still just 24, but where is the growth? Through Monday, Rosario was hitting .207 and just as important despite his speed had zero steals and had the second-most plate appearances in the majors (58) without a walk.
It accentuates the sophistication still missing in his game. Unlike Matz, he first becomes arbitration eligible this offseason so there is more time to see if he hones his skills. But like with Matz, he has plenty of major league service with not enough signs of refinement. You wonder if they will always both be talented teases.