The Astros were limited in this year’s draft, saddled with the league’s smallest bonus pool due to their cheating-related pick forfeitures, but nonetheless received good reviews from onlookers for what they were able to do with their limited resources. Evaluators praised their selection of promising prep arm Alex Santos II with their first selection, and their fifth-round pick, Shay Whitcomb, was seen as an excellent value on day three. To supplement their small number of picks, James Click and company were active in the UDFA market, signing six college players within a week of draft day. Among that group were a few intriguing names- for one, the team brought in Carlos Correa’s little brother, J.C., an infielder out of Lamar, as well as a pair of accomplished college mashers- Mizzou’s Peter Zimmerman and Southeast Missouri State’s Justin Dirden, both of whom had significant power production on their resumes.
The college bats certainly bear monitoring, and could make serious statistical noise whenever Minor League Baseball resumes. With that said, one name from their UDFA crop especially stood out to me in my review of the class- that being Oklahoma’s Zack Matthews. A tanky, 5’11” righty who tips the scales at about 200 lbs., Matthews is far from your prototypical frame, but packs an incredibly live arm that makes him ideal for a professional bullpen. 5’11” righties typically don’t go high in the draft unless their other traits are top of the scale, but that wasn’t the only factor working against Matthews draft stock- the hurler has had some health trouble, including a Tommy John surgery in May. Perfect Game’s Kendall Rogers commented on Twitter that he felt that Matthews could’ve been a top three rounds selection had he not required that surgery
Matthews is a pure fastball-slider pitcher and is capable of running his heater up to 98 MPH with life. His delivery is not without effort, but that’s not surprising given his role, and it isn’t violent like some power armed relief prospects. While he’s unlikely to ever have pinpoint command, his delivery should allow fringe average location which will be enough for his plus fastball to play. His hard slider is an ideal complement to the heater, tunnelling well with good velocity. He’s the type of arm that the Astros love to try out in a hybrid role in the low minors, throwing 3-4 innings per stint with an opportunity to show promise as a starter. I project Matthews as a setup man long term, and a quality one, but it’s worth giving him a go in a more demanding role to see how he responds- occasionally these types of arms can take to the pro game like a fish to water and surprise- but for that to happen with Matthews he’ll need to both develop a third pitch of big league quality, and stay healthy while throwing more innings than he ever has in his career. While these outcomes are certainly possible, they probably don’t represent the most likely scenario.
While Matthews isn’t without his flaws, he’s also a much better arm than his $25k bonus would suggest, and he adds to a growing stable of impressive relief arms on the Houston farm- a group that includes names like Enoli Paredes, Jojanse Torres, Willy Collado and others. It’s easy for me to envision him taking the hill for high leverage innings in the bigs at some point, and that alone makes him an impressive find in the whirlwind UDFA market. Hopefully it won’t be too long before he’s able to take a minor league mound- though when that might be, at this point, is anybody’s guess.