Welcome Mat: O's tab pitcher in Draft
Left-hander's potential too hard to pass up with fourth pick
BALTIMORE -- It was a Draft deep in offensive prospects, but that didn't stop the Orioles from getting their favorite arm. Baltimore selected southpaw starter Brian Matusz with the fourth overall pick in the 2008 First-Year Player Draft on Thursday, adding a two-time finalist for the Golden Spikes Award and the current NCAA leader in strikeouts (141).
Scouting director Joe Jordan confirmed the offensive nature of the Draft, but he said he had Matusz pegged as the top pitcher. The Orioles also considered college slugger Justin Smoak, but ultimately, they decided on the best available arm.
"That should tell you how much I like him, really, because there are some quality bats in the Draft," said Jordan of his top pick. "We just went around and around the last 24 hours. It was back and forth. We had a lot of conversations with the staff, but at the end of the day, this seems to fit the blueprint of this organization going forward. From the character side, the talent side -- however you want to look at it. At around 10 o'clock this morning, I was good with it."
Matusz, the most decorated pitcher in University of San Diego's history, is the reigning West Coast Conference Pitcher of the Year and the all-time strikeout (396) leader at his school. The left-hander went 12-2 with a 1.71 ERA this season, and held opponents to a .211 batting average and 22 walks in 105 innings.
Matusz went 10-3 with a 2.85 ERA last season and pitched for Team USA during the summer. He was drafted in the fourth round by the Angels in 2005, but he elected to attend school instead. Matusz became the first San Diego player to be named as a finalist for the Golden Spikes Award -- given to the best amateur baseball player -- and he helped the team achieve its highest ranking (No. 4) last season.
"Going in today, I was really unsure of where I was going to go in the Draft," Matusz said. "It was definitely hard for me to sleep last night, just because of the anticipation and not really knowing where I was going to go. I felt really good when I see the first three picks go by, and I saw Baltimore up there with five minutes on the television screen. Deep down inside, I really thought I had an opportunity to become an Oriole. I knew they'd really done a good job all year of scouting me."
Jordan said that he's seen Matusz around seven times since he was a high school student, and he said the youngster has done a good job of filling out and becoming more physical. Now it's just a matter of experience.
"This guy really knows what he's doing," Jordan said. "There's going to be a lot of days, as with every pitcher, when you go to the mound [and] you just don't have your best stuff, but you've got to figure out a way to win. This is a guy that I think has that intangible on those days -- which may end up being a third of your starts in a given year -- that's going to keep us in games, get to the sixth inning. And when he has his good stuff, let's score us a couple runs and let's go home."
The Orioles have concentrated heavily on pitching in recent Drafts and have restocked their system depth through several trades. Baltimore used its last top Draft pick on catcher Matt Wieters, but it still used 17 of its top 25 picks on pitchers. The last time the Orioles picked as high as No. 4 was 2002, when Baltimore selected southpaw pitcher Adam Loewen.
Unlike Wieters, though, the Orioles are expected to get Matusz under control relatively quickly. Wieters didn't commit until minutes before the deadline last year for college players to sign, but the Orioles expect a different experience this time. Matusz will likely be slotted at Class A Frederick, but Jordan said his first stop will be dictated by when he signs.
"I think that it will be a different schedule," he said of the timetable to sign his top pick. "I expect him to be one of the top prospects we have, once we get him signed and get him in the organization and acclimated and all that stuff.
"I'd like to get out there and start playing as soon as possible," added Matusz. "My No. 1 goal since I've been started playing baseball is to play in the Major Leagues, and I've kind of just been taking it step by step."
Orioles' top five selections
|4.||LHP||Brian Matusz||U San Diego|
|50.||CF||Xavier Avery||Cedar Grove HS (Ga.)|
|81.||2B||Jerome Hoes||St Johns HS (Md.)|
|116.||CF||Kyle Hudson||U of Illinois Champaign|
|146.||SS||Greg Miclat||U of Virginia|
|Complete Orioles Draft results >|
Matusz was also frank about his mind-set from when he was drafted previously, saying that it would've taken a "life-changing" amount of money to get him to skip college. Matusz called going to school the "best decision of my life."
"I knew I wanted to have three years of college under my belt," he said. "I've had three great years at San Diego, and it's been a great experience, a great time of my life. But it's about time to start my professional career."
Jordan raved about the pitcher's arsenal and mental toughness, saying Matusz pitches better than his stuff might show. The college star can hit 93 mph consistently with his fastball and shows a touch with his changeup and curveball, but Jordan said he separates himself from the crowd in his mental toughness and the way he carries himself.
"I had such a wonderful meeting with Brian about two weeks ago at breakfast. ... And he just struck me as an intellectual kid, a thinker, asked great questions," he said. "You've got to sign him and you've got to get him in, [but] I'll get to know him real well this summer. I feel good about what we've done. I think he's a good guy to add to the group."
When asked to compare himself to a current Major Leaguer, Matusz chose Phillies southpaw Cole Hamels.
"He's a tall, lanky lefty who has a plus-plus curveball and a plus changeup," he said. "From watching him pitch, I feel like he does a great job of mixing things up with hitters. He's somebody I've been watching for the last few years."
In other Draft-related news, the Orioles paid tribute to the Negro Leagues by symbolically selecting a player to represent them. Baltimore chose pitcher and outfielder Bert Simmons, who played for the Baltimore Elite Giants in 1950.
Round 1 (No. 4) -- LHP Brian Matusz -- University of San Diego
Matusz, the first pitcher selected in the Draft, is a two-time finalist for the Golden Spikes Award. The southpaw was named the West Coast Conference Pitcher of the Year and is the school's all-time leader in strikeouts (396).
Round 2 (No. 50) -- CF Xavier Avery -- Cedar Grove H.S. (Ellenwood, Ga.)
The speedy center fielder signed with the University of Georgia to play football, but he may be swayed by his high Draft position. Avery hit .561 with eight home runs and 35 stolen bases during his senior season.
Round 3 (No. 81) -- 2B Jerome Hoes -- St. Johns H.S. (Washington, D.C.)
Hoes, a University of North Carolina signee, batted .524 with 32 stolen bases as a senior.
Round 4 (No. 116) -- CF Kyle Hudson -- University of Illinois
Hudson is another two-sport athlete, having doubled in football and baseball at Illinois. Hudson had 12 catches for the football team in 2007 and batted .411 with 39 stolen bases during his junior baseball season.
Round 5 (No. 146) -- SS Greg Miclat -- University of Virginia
Miclat had surgery on his right shoulder after his sophomore season -- during which he batted .376 with a .486 on-base percentage -- and rebounded to hit .320 with 30 stolen bases as a junior.
Round 6 (No. 176) -- LHP Rick Zagone -- University of Missouri
The southpaw -- who came within two outs of a no-hitter against Kansas State this season -- went 2-3 with a 5.25 ERA as a junior after combining for 13 wins during his first two seasons.
Spencer Fordin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.