The 2011 season was an adventure for Tyler Matzek, the Rockies' No. 6 prospect. He lost his feel for the strike zone and even went home to work with his old pitching coach to get straightened out. It worked, to an extent, and he showed considerable progress once he returned.
Everyone was curious to see how the 2009 first-round Draft pick would respond this year, especially with his promotion to the hitting-friendly California League. Overall, the response has been a good one, but Matzek was particularly sharp this past week, earning him Prospect Watch Pitcher of the Week honors.
Matzek made two starts spanning 15 innings, and the lefty was lights-out, winning both starts. He allowed just one earned run (0.60 ERA) on six hits (.120 batting average against) while striking out 16. More importantly, he walked only three.
If Matzek can continue that drop in his walk rate, he could regain the prospect status that made him such a high Draft pick. As it is, Matzek is proving to be fairly unhittable, standing fifth in the California League in ERA (2.64), fourth in strikeouts (66) and first in batting average against (.173). But he also tops the league with 40 walks, leading to a 6.2 BB/9 ratio.
Blue Jays prospect d'Arnaud remains hot
You thought Travis d'Arnaud had a good week last week? That was nothing.
The Blue Jays' top prospect turned in another scorcher last week for Triple-A Las Vegas. The catcher went 16-for-32 (.500) while slugging 1.125 and posting a .542 on-base percentage. He topped all Prospect Watch players in OPS (1.668), total bases (36), homers (tied with others at five) and RBIs (13), making him the clear choice for the second week in a row to be named Prospect Watch Hitter of the Week.
The tear has brought d'Arnaud's season line up to .328/.385/.603 with 12 homers. He's now in the top 10 in slugging, OPS and home runs.
Big league catcher J.P. Arencibia is coming off a solid month during which he homered eight times, including a two-homer game on Sunday. Finding a way to get both backstops into Toronto's lineup might have to be considered soon if d'Arnaud keeps this up.
Bauer's D-backs debut could be on horizon
Arizona pitching prospect Trevor Bauer has pitched as advertised, and his performances have D-backs fans clamoring for his promotion to the big leagues.
There's no denying how good Bauer, the No. 1-ranked prospect in the organization, has been. The club's 2011 first-round pick tarted this season at Double-A Mobile and went 7-1 with a 1.68 ERA in eight starts for the BayBears before his promotion to Triple-A Reno. He went on to give up one run in eight innings in his first start for the Aces, sending the D-backs' faithful into a frenzy.
There's also no ignoring the fact that Bauer has fewer than a dozen starts as a pro. He walked five batters and had two wild pitches for the Aces against New Orleans in his second Triple-A start. He threw only 42 of 89 pitches for strikes that game.
Pitching against Sacramento, a team that included Yoenis Cespedes and Manny Ramirez, in his third Triple-A start earlier this week, Bauer gave up two runs, struck out eight and issued four walks in six innings for the victory.
He threw 100 pitches against the River Cats, 56 of which were strikes. Overall, Bauer has struck out 84 batters in 67 1/3 innings this season.
"[Bauer] hasn't been in the Minor Leagues very long, and he's been rushed like we've never rushed anybody before, because of the stuff that he has and his ability to pitch," D-backs farm director Mike Bell said. "He has made some improvements. For me, it's not about improving stuff but more about the ability to manage game plans, getting us deep into games and giving us chance to win."
The D-backs would like to see Bauer make mechanical adjustments quicker when things are not going as planned during games. The ability to adjust on the fly could result in him pitching into the seventh and eighth innings more often.
Overall, Bauer has pitched at least five innings in each of his first 11 starts, going six innings twice, seven innings three times and pitching eight innings once.
"A lot has to do with logging more innings and facing better hitters," Bell said. "It will work itself out, and he's understanding how to correct those things."
The question remains: Is Bauer ready for the big leagues?
"I don't know, but I think he is pretty close. He's in Triple-A," Bell said. "There are other good pitchers with him at Reno, but I would imagine any time an opportunity comes up, I would think he would be in the conversation for something to happen. But ultimately, it's up to [D-backs general manager] Kevin Towers and [manager] Kirk Gibson. It's KT's call."
There's also no guarantee that Bauer would be Towers' first choice. The D-backs also have Barry Enright, Patrick Corbin, Charles Brewer and Joe Martinez at Triple-A. Highly-touted prospect Tyler Skaggs is at Double-A.
Brewers' Bradley ready to move past groin injury
The Brewers are confident that Jed Bradley's nagging groin injury will not be a real pain this season.
"We got a handle on it," Brewers farm director Reid Nichols said. "He understands what he has to do to maintain it, and we have a better feel for it. We are OK. He's 100-percent."
The southpaw prospect returned to Class A Advanced Brevard County from the disabled list on May 25 and gave up five runs (four earned) on 12 hits in 4 2/3 innings against Dunedin in his first start since going on the DL 11 days earlier. The No. 2 prospect in the organization was charged with two runs on seven hits in six innings against Daytona on Wednesday in his next start.
"It's his first full season going through camp," Nichols said. "He has some learning to do on how to become a pro. It's a grind and he's learning how to deal with it. They all have to learn."
Bradley, selected by the Brewers with the 15th overall pick in last year's Draft, was slowed by a groin injury during Spring Training and also dealt with a groin issue last October during instructional league.
Desert heat effects extended spring camps
The heat is on in extended spring in Arizona.
With temperatures regularly above 100 degrees for workouts and expected to reach at least 110 in the next few weeks, the toasty weather is a factor for players honing their skills in the Valley of the Sun.
It's not uncommon for temperatures to reach 115 degrees in the Phoenix area during the summer, and the heat is part of the reason clubs begin extended spring workouts before 7 a.m. and play games at 10:30 a.m. A few teams play their games at night under the lights to keep their players out of the sun.
"It's a challenge for these guys and we try to do things to make it more sustainable, but don't want it to be a focus," said Bobby Evans, San Francisco's vice president of baseball operations. "We want the focus to be on learning what to do and not getting too caught up in the weather. The East Coast can be humid, the Northwest is rainy and the Bay Area has cooler weather sometimes, but this game needs you to adjust. Playing through a hotter climate is one of many tests they will face in their careers."
Evans called extended spring a rite of passage and recalls that even Giants reliever Sergio Romo had to "battle his way out of there."
"These guys are living the dream but having to pass through tough waters," Evans said. "You have to think long and hard about it, because it's such a tough environment. Some players are disappointed to be there but they still go out and make the most of it. The good news is that our coaches do a great job of keeping it loose and challenging them."
Evans said he has received good reports on right-handed power pitcher Joan Gregorio, who is ranked No. 12 in San Francisco's Minor League system. Gregorio led the Arizona Rookie League with a 2.32 ERA last year.
"As we get closer to Draft time, we'll start to put guys on clubs," Evans said. "He slots in pretty well in [Class A short season] Salem."
One player still noticeable by his absence from Giants camp in Scottsdale is first baseman Angel Villalona. The slugger, who was stripped of his U.S. visa not long after he was charged in the death of a man in the Dominican Republic in 2009, is working out at the club's complex in the D.R. He was cleared of homicide charges but has not been issued a visa.
"It's an issue with a consulate. We are working on their time frame," Evans said. "It's hard when you are not playing in games and facing competition, but he has made the most of the situation. It's not ideal, but he's made the most of it."
Jonathan Mayo and Jesse Sanchez are reporters for MLB.com. Mayo writes a blog, B3. Follow @JonathanMayoB3 and @JesseSanchezMLB on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.