If there is one strength the Padres have, it would be their bullpen. Not only is the team loaded with a good amount of big league relief talent, but they also have quite a few interesting minor league prospects either on their way or who have already landed. The most intriguing of that second group has to be right-hander Phil Maton. It’s hard to get too excited about relief pitching prospects, but Maton has definitely received a fair amount of buzz as he has climbed the big league ladder.
Drafted in the 20th round of the 2015 MLB Draft, Maton made a quick rise through the minor leagues, with almost exactly two years from his draft day to his big league debut. Relief-only prospects are always hit and miss, but that is even more so true for Maton given that he was such a late round draft pick. However, Maton showed that he was a special arm almost from the start of his professional career.
After being drafted, Maton jumped right to short-season ball, throwing 32 and two-thirds innings with a 1.38 ERA and 0.51 FIP. On top of that, Maton sported a 58:5 strikeout to walk rate in those innings, and truly dominated opposing hitters. It’s important to note that Maton, then 22, was old for that level, but it was still an impressive showing. Maton began the 2016 season with 12 and two-thirds stellar innings in Low-A, striking out 19 to just one walk. He followed with an even better showing in High-A, tossing 33 innings with 47 strikeouts and just eight walks. At this point, it was clear the Padres had a pretty special arm on their hands.
Following that showing, Maton skipped Double-A entirely, appearing in five games in Triple-A to finish the season. In those games, Maton struck out 12 batters in just six innings, showing he still could maintain his otherworldly dominance at a higher level. Over his first 84 and third professional innings, Maton racked up 136 strikeouts to just 16 walks, with only 15 earned runs. Yup, in his first two professional seasons Maton walked more batters than he gave up earned runs. That’s insane.
Going into 2017, it was clear that Maton was on the fast track to useful big league innings. However, Maton wasn’t nearly as dominant back in Triple-A, striking out only 31 batters in just over 25 innings for the El Paso Chihuahuas. Despite that, Maton still found himself getting the big league call in early June. Maton ended up throwing 43 big league innings, posting a 4.19 ERA and striking out 46 batters to 14 walks. It was clear that he had taken a step back from his minor league dominance, but that is to be expected for a player making his big league debut.
The biggest red flag for Maton was his trouble with the long ball, as the right-hander gave up 10 home runs, more than double what he had given up over his first 100 plus professional innings in the Padres’ organization. Although those numbers were somewhat alarming, there are positives to be found. Not only does Maton still sport one of highest spin rate fastballs of any pitcher in baseball, a fact that garnered him quite a bit of attention as a prospect, but he also sports a slider that actually rates as his best pitch. Even with the long ball problems, there is still a lot to like in Maton’s profile looking forward into 2018.
2018 Projection and Long-Term Outlook
Steamer: 65 innings, 25.3% strikeout rate, 8.8% walk rate, 3.80 ERA, 3.87 FIP, 0.5 fWAR
Looking at the projections, Steamer sees Maton taking a big step forward in 2018. With some home run regression, from over two home runs per nine innings to just over one, as well as improvements in batting average against, Maton is projected to have a pretty solid season out of the bullpen for the Padres.
In terms of long-term outlook, Maton looks like he has the potential to be a useful, high-leverage reliever for the Padres for years to come. If he can maintain his solid K-rate while reining in the home runs, he has a potential to be an above average option out of the back of the pen. With his deadly fastball and above-average slider, Maton could be a stalwart in the Padres’ bullpen for years to come.