Once upon a time, there were two young boys from Long Island who played baseball against or with each other. They came from different towns and backgrounds. Both loved being pitchers and they each had the same dream that many young boys have as they dominated high School baseball in their teens to be a big league ballplayer.
Steven Matz and Marcus Stroman grew up not too far from each other and although they were both destined to be major league players, they would get there in completely different ways. Matz is the dream of every organization, a tall lefty with amazing stuff. He had big league pitcher written all over him.
When Mets scout Larry Izzo first saw him as a youngster, he knew signing Steven would be his defining moment as a scout and would be the one player every scout dreams of signing for his own legacy. He was right. I had only seen him hit and was impressed with that, plus his glove at first base.
After signing out of high school by the Mets, in the second round of the 2009 draft for $895,000, Steven was on a fast track to the big leagues and made it but not before his arm began to break down. First there was Tommy John surgery in the minors and then assorted elbow soreness, irritations and minor or season ending injuries have hindered his brilliant career.
Matz continues to be a legit major league pitcher and he will be fine but there is that thought of “what’s next”, every time he pitches.
Marcus Stroman took a different route to get to where he is today, deciding to turn down the Nationals as their pick in the 18th round in 2009 and instead going to Duke University. He ended up signing with Toronto in the first round of the 2012 draft for $1.8 million.
I first saw Marcus when I was umpiring high school varsity baseball on Long Island in 2009. Lucky for me, as I had the plate that day and got to see this kid up close and personal. It was clearly man against boys. He was so overpowering that day, that on a close pitch I called a strike, the opposing coach clearly seeing that his team was over matched yelled out, “Come on, just give us a chance.”
His opposing team that day was the number three team in that league. Marcus and Steven made their teams number one and two that year. In the top of the seventh inning, Marcus was at bat when he was hit by a pitch in his left arm. He jumped up and down as he ran to first. He loudly and angrily repeated, “I’m gonna get some one”.
I warned both coaches and told them to get their crowds under control. When Marcus went out to the mound for the bottom of the seventh, I walked out to him and told him not to do anything dumb. I said “you’re better than that”. He said to me, “I got this. Not a problem,”
He proceeded to strike the last three batters out with ease. At that point I had seen enough to know that this kid was something special. When I saw him for the first time in spring training in 2014, the scout next to me said “This guy is too small for a pitcher, wonder if he can hit?” I then told him about his make-up.
What I had seen in him as a tough no nonsense young man who had one thing in mind, WIN! The burning fire in his gut made him six feet five to me. After his brilliant performance and MVP honors in the WBC championship, that scout called me and told said, “You sure ‘got it right’ about Stroman.”
Matz is the classic big lefty that throws like a big leaguer and will have a very good career in baseball. Stroman is a proven big leaguer as well. But the fire in his gut and overall make-up makes him special. When evaluating players and young prospects, the first two things a scout sees is talent and size. That’s easy.
The important part is to find out what his make-up is. Talk to him, watch him on the field and on the bench. See what makes him tick. There is a lot of talent out there in the pros and at the amateur level. Some pros can have a good career on talent alone.
But it’s the ones with the most fire and determination, become stars.