I took pen and paper in hand, and watched Blue Jays left hand pitcher Matt Boyd make a start against the Trenton Thunder last week, and came up with some observations.
First off, a disclaimer - I am not a scout, nor do I pretend to be one. I was watching Boyd not from behind home plate in Trenton, but on my laptop at my kitchen table somewhere north of Toronto.
My view gave me a good idea of what Boyd's command and ability to repeat his delivery was like, but not his velocity (unless the Trenton play-by-play guys happened to mention it, and they didn't very often), or the movement on his fastball.
A few notes about Boyd.
-the Mercer Island, WA product grew up a Mariners fan, and idolized Randy Johnson.
-Boyd grew up playing both baseball and hockey; he jokingly calls himself a "defenceman enforcer,' but he was good enough to make a Team USA regional team. Many of his teammates went on to play in college or the WHL.
-he boasts a pair of famous people in his family tree: former First Lady Dolly Madison, and Hall of Famer pitcher Bob Feller. Now, in the case of Feller, it was a distant connection; it's not like he grew up on Feller's knee being regaled with tales of him striking out DiMaggio and Williams.
-he pitched out of the bullpen and played 1st at Oregon State for his first three college seasons, before being converted to a starter in his senior year. Boyd led the Beavers to the College World Series that year, tossing a complete game four-hit shutout in the second round.
-the Blue Jays took Boyd in the 6th round of the 2013 draft
-Boyd had an April and May that was the equal of Daniel Norris' and Kendall Graveman's last year, and earned a June promotion to New Hampshire. A foot injury, and maybe being overwhelmed a bit led to his being sent back to High A, where he pitched well, but bone chips in his elbow limited his effectiveness in August.
-Boyd has reportedly been working with pitching consultant Kyle Boddy. Boddy runs Driveline Baseball, a company which provides, according to its website, "Proven, researched training systems for developing healthy, high-velocity pitchers of any age," based near Tacoma. Completely healthy and recovered from last year's injuries, Boyd's increase in velocity this spring may be attributable to the work he's done with Boddy.
The start I saw was an April 20th outing. The game time temperature was a reasonable 69F.
This was his third start of the season. In the prior two, he had struck out 18 batters in 9.1 innings.
Here is my charting of his pitches:
Boyd has a high leg kick, and a slight hitch in his delivery that likely can make it hard for left handed hitters to pick up the ball from. As you can see from my scrawls, he threw all four of his pitches, mainly relying on his fastball to get ahead on the count, which he mostly did - Boyd threw first pitch strikes to 10 of 18 hitters, and was working in pitchers' counts much of the time. He had 6 1-2 counts on hitters, and threw 54 of his 81 pitches on the night for strikes.
Boyd has a reputation for being a pitcher who relies on his command of all four pitches and his feel for pitching to get hitters out. He lives on the black of the plate, and if he is having command issues with any of his pitches, he can struggle to throw strikes. On this occasion, he seemed to be having some trouble with his slider, leaving it well up in the zone. As a result, hitters tended to be able to foul off borderline pitches, as evidenced by a couple of long at bats in the early going that drove up his pitch count. He just wasn't able to put those hitters away, and he reached his pitch count by the end of the 5th as a result.
Boyd didn't give up a hit in this outing, and the loudest contact of the night against him was a long fly ball that just landed outside of the right field foul pole in the 2nd. His advanced feel for pitching allowed him to know what was working for him that night, and his athleticism allowed him to repeat his delivery frequently enough that he could command his fastball pretty much throughout his outing.
Boyd is said to have an excellent pick off move, but he didn't really need to use his best one in this game. I should also add that C A.J. Jimenez, who was activated just before this start (and now is in Buffalo) was a big help to Boyd in the early going, showing framing and blocking skills that I've admired for some time.
Al Skorupa of Baseball Prospectus watched a recent start of Boyd's (it may have been this one), and he came away less than impressed. Skorupa claims that Boyd's fastball isn't "big enough, his command is below average, and there's no out pitch." At the same time, he admired how Boyd overcame some early control issues to limit the damage. Skorupa does like Boyd's slider, calling it a future average pitch. He did like what he saw of Boyd's change up, as did I on the night in question - he had some good movement on it.
Is Boyd a potential major league pitcher? His projection always has been back of the rotation, but he has pitched above that benchmark in three minor league seasons. In addition to not being a scout, I'm also not a journalist, so I don't always have to be objective. I've spoken with Boyd on Twitter a few times, and he seems like a very mature and level-headed kid. It's hard not to pull for someone like that, and while I'm not sure what his ultimate future holds, I think he can establish himself as a major league pitcher down the road. Boyd may likely be one of those players who has to ride the options shuttle for a few seasons before he sticks, but he's a left handed pitcher who has shown an ability to miss bats - he's struck out better than a batter per inning over 180 minor league innings. While he doesn't have the power arm profile for the bullpen like the Jays prefer, with Randy Wolf, Andrew Albers, and maybe even Scott Copeland ahead of him on the depth charts (maybe even Felix Doubront, come to think of it), Boyd could help in long relief, or as a secondary lefty option to Aaron Loup.
I like what his college coach, Pat Casey, had to say about him, and I think it neatly sums Matt Boyd up:
“When you coach young men—and it’s difficult enough, but he’s a no-maintenance guy,” Casey said of Boyd. “He takes care of everything. He goes to school, does well in school, trains. He’s the guy you never have to worry about. He’s just easy to coach; he’s just a great kid . . . And he’s just—he’s a really fun kid to coach and he’s a great man.”