On Wednesday morning, the Tampa Bay Rays traded Evan Longoria to the San Francisco Giants in exchange for four players, including big leaguer Denard Span, top prospect Christian Arroyo, and minor league pitchers Stephen Woods and Matt Krook. There are a lot of interesting angles on analyzing the deal, primarily around Longoria’s future in San Francisco, the Rays’ rebuild ahead, and the development and ultimate ceiling of Christian Arroyo. (We got a look at Arroyo earlier this year; for more on him, click here for our scouting report, or click here for an interview from April.)
Beyond the far larger pieces moved, though, is Matt Krook. Far more interesting than his numbers to date might suggest, the lanky lefty could prove to be a decent bullpen asset in time with the right development. He suffered through a very, very tough start to the 2017 season with High-A San Jose, completely losing fastball command for a stretch and struggling to get through the lineup more than once in several early-season starts. Even as he (slowly) rebounded from a poor April, command remained an issue for Matt Krook virtually on through ’til the end of the summer, when the San Francisco Giants eventually decided to see what he looked like coming out of the bullpen.
Somewhat rejuvenated as a ‘pen arm (more below), Krook suddenly looked to me like he could maybe string together enough ample life on his stuff and raw deception in his mechanics to work as a situational left-handed reliever at ceiling. That remains to be seen, and the University of Oregon product must first reclaim his reputation with better command and more consistent execution of his pitches, but it’s a silver lining — and likely the thing the Tampa Bay Rays were banking on when they decided to buy low on Krook this week.
For now, here’s the quick and dirty Matt Krook scouting report: tall, lanky lefty who has thus far struggled to consistently repeat his delivery and release point; significant command/control issues that make him an unlikely starter moving forward; bullpen move inevitable with natural hard-sinking fastball and two distinct breaking balls. Sits 88-92 mph with his fastball, which shows natural, late sink with some arm-side fade at its best. Pairs sinker with 81-84 mph slider, and 77-79 mph curveball; distinct pitches, though the sweeping 10-to-4 slider is typically better executed and used more often. Started to match up very well against lefties with bullpen move late in 2017, which included slightly lower arm angle and more consistent mechanics with some deception. Profiles particularly well going forward as a situational relief lefty with sinker/slider combo, but must prove his command profile can bounce back from a tough season in San Jose.
Now, the context…
Matt Krook, Tampa Bay Rays — 2017 In Review
We saw Matt Krook quite a bit in 2017, witnessing his rough start to the season as a rotation arm, and then his bullpen rejuvenation by the end as a somewhat-reinvented lefty reliever with a solid sinker/slider look. Below, we’ll go step-by-step through the year with ample video, so you can see for yourself and get a sense of who the Tampa Bay Rays just acquired in Krook. (Friendly reminder: please click here and subscribe to our YouTube channel if you found these videos valuable and want a few thousand more like ’em.)
April 10, 2017 @ Lancaster
In his first start of the 2017 season — and first game in full-season ball after being drafted in 2016 — Matt Krook went sideways in a very poor opening gambit at Lancaster. Command betrayed him in what would end up being the beginning of his storyline for the season’s first half: a complete inability to get ahead of hitters and work into advantageous counts with his fastball. Inconsistent mechanics played into an inconsistent release point, and he never figured out how to consistently throw his sinker at the knees for a strike, either missing far from the zone, or missing up and over the fat part of the plate. For his trouble, Krook gave up seven runs (all earned) on five hits and four walks in just 1.2 innings pitched. Not a great start to 2017.
April 24, 2017 @ Rancho Cucamonga
Fast forward two weeks, and we saw Matt Krook again for San Jose, starting on the road at Rancho Cucamonga. This time he lasted three full innings, but allowed nine runs (eight earned) on seven hits and five walks, registering just 35 of his 66 pitches as strikes. A loss there — already his third of the young season — saw Krook’s ERA balloon to 15.58. We only took side-view mechanics video (open-faced) of him that time around, but it’s much of the same as before: inconsistent delivery and release points with no reliable execution of pitches, far too many at-bats spent working behind in the count, and never enough early strikes to go to off-speed stuff late.
May 25, 2017 @ Lancaster
By our next view in late May, things had (kind of) started to turn around for Matt Krook. The lefty turned in the best start of his season on May 25 on the road at Lancaster, allowing just two runs in six innings on only three hits and two walks. There were still command issues, but he managed to throw 47 of 77 pitches for strikes and finally started to figure out the feel of a sinking fastball. He lacked deception and still looked uneasy at times with execution working essentially as just a one-pitch guy (no small feat at The Hangar), but finally Krook was controlling at least one pitch with some semblance of consistency, and it netted him payback against Lancaster after that brutal early April outing.
August 29, 2017 @ Inland Empire
By the beginning of August, the San Francisco Giants decided to move Krook to San Jose’s bullpen. He had been pitching slightly better out of the rotation (I saw what wound up being his final start of the season at the end of July against Inland Empire), but a few prospect promotions and a late second-half playoff race necessitated the Giants switch some things around, so Krook started working in relief. I saw his final relief outing in late August at Inland (video below) which, in my half-dozen viewings year-to-date, was by far the best Matt Krook had looked all season long. He dropped his arm slot a bit, found more consistent timing through his delivery, and was starting to pair off his sinking fastball with a big, sweeping slider that he could actually command side to side in the strike zone. In other words, he showed off the makings of a situational arm who could bring hell to left-handed hitters in a matchup role.
It’s that last outing (and the context of his development all year towards it) that I think best tells the story of Matt Krook: if there’s a future to be had here as more than a throw-in to complete a bigger trade around him, it’s to be developed as a lefty working out of the bullpen who should match up well with left-handed hitters in a situational role. There’s ample development to be done for him to work his way into any role like that, and Krook must first prove his command profile is strong enough to even warrant that type of job, but his late-2017 sinker/slider look was legitimately filthy at times with potential to tie up left-handed hitters in relief.
And so this is where we are, with the San Francisco Giants shipping off a projectable but imperfect lefty to the Tampa Bay Rays as a smaller piece in the larger Evan Longoria deal. Maybe the Tampa Bay Rays see something completely different, and they’ll have Matt Krook start games in 2018; perhaps they have a separate plan for him and specifically wanted Krook in the deal to make improvements to his delivery and arsenal, or something. I certainly can’t blame the San Francisco Giants for moving him after a year as difficult as 2017.
But ultimately, I believe it’s a mistake to think Matt Krook has a rotation future, and it’s more likely he’s a buy-low guy the Rays feel could become a serviceable lefty reliever one day with a little development and a bit of luck. Or maybe that’s just how I’d use him. Regardless, there is a feasible path forward for Matt Krook despite his awful-looking 2017 campaign, and as far as I’m concerned, that road started when he moved to the bullpen in August. Look past his ugly 2017 walk numbers and you’ll find pitch life and deception… if only it can be corralled enough for relief work. Hopefully, Matt Krook will prove a shrewd addition for the Tampa Bay Rays, and transition relatively well into a situational relief role; expect him to spend a sizable part of 2018 with Double-A Montgomery, ideally out of the bullpen.