Third-rounder Matuella aims to overcome odds

Third-rounder Matuella aims to overcome odds

ARLINGTON -- The Rangers took UC-Santa Barbara right-hander Dillon Tate with the fourth overall pick because they believe he was the best pitcher in the 2015 Draft.

• Rounds 3-5 wrap-up

They took Duke right-hander Michael Matuella with their third-round pick because he might have ended up as the best pitcher in the Draft if not for a back issue and major elbow surgery. The Rangers are hoping Matuella can overcome those problems and give them two premium starting-pitching prospects from one Draft.

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"When we got him, I was ecstatic," Rangers scouting director Kip Fagg said. "It was one of the better scouting moments in my Texas Rangers career. If this guy gets healthy, he has got a chance to be a frontline guy. He has got that kind of arm and that kind of stuff."

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Much depends on how Matuella recovers from Tommy John elbow reconstruction surgery that was performed on April 14 by Dr. James Andrews. But he is also dealing with a back condition known as spondylosis that causes degeneration of the lower vertebrae.

• Draft Central

Matuella was diagnosed with the back problem when he was a freshman in high school. But it never became an issue until his sophomore year at Duke. Matuella spent last summer and fall on a core-strengthening program and entered this season believing it was no longer a problem. The Rangers were confident enough to meet with Matuella in January about being the fourth overall pick in the country.

That was before he came down with the elbow problems during the season that led to Tommy John surgery.

2015 Draft: Michael Matuella, P

"It was been pretty wild," Matuella said. "It's frustrating to work so hard so that the back would not be an issue. It is not an issue ... then to have elbow come up. I'm just working as hard as I can to come back in the best shape of my life. The only thing I can control is how hard I can work."

The twin questions about Matuella's health are why a pitcher who began his junior year at Duke as a potential overall first pick ended up falling to the Rangers at No. 78 overall. Matuella was not selected in the first two rounds of the Draft, and his status was one of the big question marks going into the second day.

The Rangers answered it by taking him with the third pick of the third round.

"It was definitely tough not getting picked the first day," Matuella said. "But I was confident the right team would pick me. I was really happy it was the Texas Rangers. Texas has been very thorough in describing the rehab program I would be going through. I think it's the right course to ensure my long-term health and my long-term success."

The Rangers still have to sign him. Matuella's slot value is $777,600, which would be significantly less than the bonus he might have received if not for Tommy John surgery. Matuella will likely get more than his slot, but both sides are confident a deal will get done.

"I'm very optimistic," Matuella said. "The Rangers made it clear they want to sign me, and I'm confident we can work it out."

T.R. Sullivan is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Postcards from Elysian Fields, follow him on Twitter @Sullivan_Ranger and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.