Thursday, June 25, 2015

What to Expect from Matt Boyd

  Before we begin, a disclaimer:

   I've been a Blue Jays fan since Day One.  My parents, knowing that their youngest son was obsessed with baseball (a trait inherited from his father and brother), let me skip school the afternoon of that snowy 1977 Home Opener.
   I have also been a fan of minor league baseball for much of that time.  In the pre-internet days of the early 90s, I booked a conference in Woodstock, ON, not for the professional skills upgrading it would give me as much as because the Expos AA team, which featured Rondell White and Cliff Floyd, would be visiting nearby London, then home to the Tigers AA team, for a series.  I had been reading about the pair in Baseball America for some time.
   I have been writing for prospects for three seasons now.  Matt Boyd is the first prospect that I have followed from MLB draft to the major leagues.  I've corresponded with him on Twitter, and I have found him to be a genuine and likeable young man.  He is very devout, and plans to do some volunteer ministry work with his young bride Ashley.  His college coach Pat Casey had this tribute:

“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.”

   I say all of this because I know that a journalist should try to be impartial.  Having said that, just as I have said many times that I'm not a scout, I'm not really a journalist, either.  Boyd is my first prospect graduate, so while I'll try to be objective, I'm not making any promises.


   Matt Boyd grew up in the Seattle area, and played both baseball and hockey as a youngster.  He was good enough at the latter sport to have made a regional development team as a teenager before giving up hockey to focus on baseball.
   Boyd has an interesting family tree, claiming distant relations with both former First Lady Dolly Madison and Hall of Fame pitcher Bob Feller.
   Boyd attended Oregon State, and pitched out of the bullpen for his first three years.  The Reds took him in the 12th round after his junior season, but he opted to return to school for another season - a wise decision, as it turned out.  He was converted to a starter for his senior year, and pitched a complete game four-hit shutout in OSU's 2nd round game in the College World Series.
    The Blue Jays took Boyd in the 6th round that year (2013), and he pitched at Lansing and Dunedin, but was likely feeling the effects of a long college season.  Boyd broke out in 2014 - he had a better April/May than Kendall Graveman or even Daniel Norris, and earned a promotion to AA New Hampshire.  After being lights out in High A, Boyd had his struggles at the higher level.  A foot injury, plus pressing too hard caused Boyd to get hit early and often, and he found himself back at Dunedin, only to be promoted for another brief stint with New Hampshire when they needed starting help.  Boyd came back to help the D-Jays make a run at a Florida State League title, but he was lit up by a prospect-laden Daytona squad.
   Boyd's late-season struggles could be at least partially attributed to bone chips, which he successfully had removed after the season.   Boyd also adopted a new training regimen, working with rising pitching guru Kyle Boddy of Driveline Baseball, a Tacoma-based pitcher training company.  I had several reports this spring that he had a spike in velocity, and his new program had to be a part of it.
   Boyd has an effective four-pitch arsenal.  His fastball now touches 96, and sits 92-94.  His delivery can be deceptive, as he has a high leg kick and a slight pause in his delivery.  It used to be said that he lacked a true out pitch, but that no longer seems to be the case - his fastball now is his best pitch, and complements his secondary pitches.  Boyd pounds the strike zone down low, and is getting better at pitch sequencing with almost every outing.  When he gets into trouble, it's usually because of command issues - Boyd can lose the strike zone, but only for short periods of time.  Because he strikes out a lot of batters, his pitch count tends to go up in a hurry, but he has shown a better ability to economize his pitches and induce weak contact.  He does give up the odd long ball, and he tends to give up more flyball than groundball contact sometimes, but he doesn't hurt himself with walks.  Hitters have had a tough time barreling him up, for the most part.
   Boyd  has gone from being an organization (roster-filler) guy to one of the best pitching prospects in the system - one of the best in all of the minors, even - in a relatively short period of time.  He shows an advanced feel for pitching, and while prospects tend to struggle in their first few starts as they adjust to major league hitters, I think Boyd has a bright future.  What should you expect from him?  He will need some time, but a mid-rotation starter is his likely ceiling.

  What are other evaluators saying?  There is something of a discrepancy amongst them, possibly because some haven't factored in the velocity bump this year.

  Here's what Al Skorupa of Baseball Prospectus had to say about Boyd recently:
At his best, Boyd is filling the zone with a four-pitch mix of near-average pitches. On the downside, the FB isn’t big enough, the command is below average and there’s no out pitch. Boyd has a 50 FB (88-92,m t92) with sinking action. His command really eluded him in the first couple innings last start, but he picked it up and limited the damage in the meantime. In limiting the damage he showed me he has some feel for pitching and setting up hitters. Boyd seemed to have a lot of trouble repeating his hand break and I think that might have hurt him early....., I thought the SL (77-80) had the most potential, but I still rated it as an future average pitch. It’s a 1-7 slurve that he throws for strikes and as a chase, but the shape and command were inconsistent..... we’ve got a 69-71 good high school type, big, slow loopy CB. It flashed some downer action and I wouldn’t trashcan the pitch, but it’s best as a mix-up and used to give a different look against opposite handed hitters. The CH (76-83) was also a little too inconsistent for me to really get behind it despite some above-average flashes. Often too firm, the pitch was thrown with good arm speed and he put it in the perfect spot a couple times. Boyd looks like another role 40/no. 5 starter/middle reliever to me. I could see him helping the Blue Jays pen in 2015.
   Ezra Jones of had the following projection:
Many saw Boyd as a finesse back end starter at the beginning of the season, but as his fastball has progressed and his numbers continue to be stellar, I see him as, if all works out, a solid #3 starter. Boyd has good composure on the mound and has very good control and command, walking few and striking out many. He does give up fly balls easily, especially when he leaves his change-up up in the zone, as just over 40% of the batted balls he gave up were fly balls.
This could end up as a larger problem if he cannot keep down the number of homers he gives up. This is less of an issue now, as his better fastball is inducing more pop ups. An interesting fact is that Steamer, a projection system, saw him as a league average starter in the majors this year.

   By the numbers:   I'm not a big stats-based scouting guy (I'm not a scout, remember?), but here are Boyd's stats between two levels this year:



They're pretty convincing.

  I've written extensively about Boyd, probably as much as any Blue Jays prospect not named Anthony Alford..  You can read about his off-season regimen in more detail here, and I charted his April 20th start (while he still was with New Hampshire), and you can read about that here, if you so desire.   Finally, here's a look at his delivery:

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