Matlack eager for challenges in Astros' system

Matlack eager for challenges in Astros' system

Matlack eager for challenges in Astros' system
HOUSTON -- The work has just begun for new Astros Minor League pitching coordinator Jon Matlack.

Hired by the club last month after 15 seasons in the same role with the Detroit Tigers, Matlack has spent his first few weeks on the job trying to absorb as much information as he can about the dozens of young arms in the Astros' system before the start of Spring Training.

"I really don't know anything firsthand at this point, except a little bit of information that's passed along to me by various folks and some searching through the reports I've just now been given access to," Matlack said.

With that in mind, Matlack has plenty of homework to do.

He plans to travel to the Dominican Republic on Sunday with director of player development Fred Nelson, Minor League field coordinator Paul Runge, player development coordinator Allen Rowin and Jaime Garcia, the former Minor League pitching coordinator. Garcia now supervises the pitching program in the Dominican and will travel there throughout the year and serve as the pitching coach in the Gulf Coast League.

Matlack later plans to get the pitching coaches together from each of the team's Minor League affiliates and spend a day or two picking each their brains.

"We want to make sure we're all on the same page and talking about the available talent in the organization at that point," he said.

Matlack was a three-time All-Star hurler in a playing career that spanned 13 seasons. He also served as Detroit's Major League pitching coach in 1996 and spent eight seasons as a Minor League pitching coach with the White Sox and Padres. The Tigers let him go in August.

"I somehow figured I had been there long enough I might be there until I was done, but it didn't work out that way," he said. "I'm excited about a new challenge here with the Astros and looking forward to getting it started."

Something Matlack doesn't plan to do is enter the organization and try to get the pitching prospects to mold into something they might not necessarily be capable of being.

"I've been only the once place and it was my underlying, overwhelming goal to figure out what each guy was bringing to the party and try to polish that as best we could and try to enhance it with other things they may not have known, so that we ultimately produce as good a product as they're capable of being without trying to cram them into an individual box," he said. "I'm not that kind of guy.

"I think there are some general things most deliveries have within them, and how you get that done can be an individual thing. We want to make polished stuff as good as it can be so it can march up the ladder and hopefully be successful at the big league level."

Matlack comes into the organization just as it's been infused with talented arms in the past few years, such as high draft picks Mike Foltynewicz, Adrian Houser and Tanner Bushue. Also, Jarred Cosart, acquired from the Phillies in July, and Brett Oberholtzer, traded from the Braves in July, are two of the club's top pitching prospects.

"Part of this confab with the pitching coaches, and ultimately with Fred Nelson and others in the front office, will be to find out where projections are in terms of where they see guys starting next year and in what roles in trying to piece together what the pitching staffs will look like at each individual affiliate and getting a feel for that," Matlack said.

"Through Spring Training guys can alter that position to some degree. I don't put a whole lot of stock in Spring Training, because you can be easily fooled by spring, but this will be the first look I get at almost all these guys except from a distance across the field, and I'm sure some of them I'll remember once I see them."

Matlack, 61, made his Major League debut with the Mets (1971-77), then played for the Rangers ('78-83). He won the National League Rookie of the Year Award in 1972 (15-10, 2.32 ERA) and made three straight NL All-Star squads ('74-76), sharing MVP honors with Bill Madlock in the '75 All-Star Game.

In the 1973 World Series against Oakland, Matlack posted a 2.16 ERA in three starts. He also holds the distinction of allowing Roberto Clemente's 3,000th and final hit on Sept. 30, 1972.

The pitchers he tutors nowadays have no memories of him or his accomplishments as a player, but his goal in the next few months is to find out as much about them as he can.

"It is going to be a period of adjustment, there's no doubt," he said. "It's one thing to get some information from other folks, but to me the proof is going to be in putting eyes on them and watching them, and beyond that having some conversations and finding out a little bit about how each guy is put together and what makes them tick and getting a feel for how we can make them get better."

Brian McTaggart is reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, Tag's Lines. Follow @brianmctaggart on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.