The Dodgers on Monday acquired right-handed pitcher Matt West from the Blue Jays for cash considerations, and optioned him to Double-A Tulsa. Here is a little more on the 26-year-old with an interesting past.
West was drafted out of high school in Houston in the second round in 2007 at a third baseman, and his first professional season was cut short because of a 50-game suspension for PED use, a failed drug test he initially blamed on GNC.
After hitting .223/.326/.396 for Class-A Hickory at age 21 in 2010, a repeat year in the South Atlantic League, West was converted from third base to the mound.
He showed immediate promise as a pitcher, with 35 strikeouts and just one walk in 2011, all but one game with low Class-A Spokane. Heading into the 2012 season, Baseball America in its projected 2015 Rangers lineup listed West as the closer.
"He's got pretty electric stuff that looks like it's hitting the mid-90s," a scout told Richard Durrett of ESPN in March 2012. "He's got a plus changeup and breaking ball, which he calls a slurve. I think it's more of a curve ball and it's got good movement and depth. He can throw all three pitches for strikes. The curve comes out of hand flat, so it's a bit deceptive and tougher for the hitter to pick up."
But because pitching a baseball is an unnatural act and humans are frail creatures, West had a torn ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow discovered in spring training in 2012. Initially West tried the rest and rehabilitation route, but by the time he was back on the mound in June a 6.64 ERA in 17 games with Class-A Myrtle Beach, with 16 walks and 14 strikeouts he opted to have Tommy John surgery in August.
Around that time, West recalled this story about a rain delay and aggressive security guards.
After pitching in just one game in 2013 with the rookie-level Arizona League Rangers, West pitched in the Arizona Fall League in 2013. In his brief time in the fall league West averaged 94.32 mph on his four-seam fastball, per Brooks Baseball.
That fastball was down in spring training in 2014, though it seems more that West was still building up for the season. And he still stood out to pitching coach Mike Maddux, per Even Grant of the Dallas Morning News:
"I’ve been very curious," Maddux said. "What I saw was weak contact. I liked that."
West averaged 88.8 mph with his five fastballs, topping out at 90. That’s not back-end-of-the-bullpen velocity, but given the Tommy John surgery, it’s likely that he is still in the process of adding arm strength. In 2011, the only full season in which he pitched, he showed a mid-90s fastball with exceptional command.
West made his major league debut with the Rangers in July, and pitched in three games. He allowed three runs on six hits (five singles and a double), with three strikeouts and a walk in four innings. In that cup of coffee West averaged 95.68 mph on his four-seam fastball, per Brooks Baseball.
In the minors last year, West began the season with Double-A Frisco and was promoted to Triple-A Round Rock, after allowing one run in 13⅓ innings in eight games. In 41 games combined between Double-A and Triple-A, West had a 3.34 ERA, with 64 strikeouts and 18 walks in 56⅔ innings. His 25.9-percent strikeout rate and 7.3-percent walk rate were both positives, making him someone worth keeping an eye on.
Here is a brief video of West from an intrasquad game during spring training in 2014:
The Jays claimed West off waivers in January, and so far this season, West was doing quite well with Double-A New Hampshire. In seven games he allowed one unearned run in 12⅓ innings, with 17 strikeouts and four walks, a strikeout rate of 34.7 percent and a walk rate of 8.2 percent.
Since the start of 2014, in the majors and minors combined, West has held right-handers to hitting .229/.311/.324.
West might end up being a useful piece down the road. At the very least, he was worth taking a flyer on.