In the months leading up to the June MLB Draft, Matt Hockenberry’s phone was quiet.
With Temple University’s baseball program being cut, scouts weren’t exactly paying attention to players without a place to play. Hockenberry wasn’t sure about anything as the draft neared.
"Initially I was afraid I’d have to transfer," he said Sunday afternoon. "I was worried [my teammates] would jump ship. I was just afraid we wouldn’t have a team. But then we decided we were going to play. It was rough, but I’m glad I was able to get back into the spotlight.
The Hanover, PA right handed pitcher wrapped up a season of tremendous highs. For his final collegiate performance, he pitched a complete game against #16 ranked Houston. Overall, he pitched 93 innings on the season, tying his career wins in a season with five, and finished May with a 1.86 ERA in four games. In 2013 he made six starts and nine appearances out of the bullpen. He came to Temple from South Western High School, where he was a varsity starter as a sophomore and junior. Overall this year he posted a 3.18 ERA with a 71/23 K/BB in those 93 innings.
Despite solid results all season, being drafted as early as the ninth round could’ve been a pipe dream, an unreachable goal. At least, that’s what he felt based on the conversations he had.
"I did not think it’d be 9th round. I didn’t think there was a chance in hell. I got phone calls around the 6th and 7th rounds and what I was told that it would be tomorrow [Day 2]. I had no leverage. I figured, ok, I might go back to school," he paused then said. "It was like blue balls."
Like so many players waiting to hear their name or anyone following the draft, he was glued to his phone for updates. When his phone refreshed automatically, his name popped up.
"I went nuts."
After his complete game against Houston, the Phillies extended an invite to Hockenberry, 22, to participate in a pre-draft workout a week before the draft. He took to his Instagram account, posting a photo of the experience. "I can’t even express how I feel right now," he captioned the photo. His excitement and confidence grew. That confidence came after a period of disillusionment.
"I was discouraged earlier in the season. I just had to stay on top of my game and do what I needed to," he said.
He was informed that, pending a physical, once he signs after arriving in Florida, he’ll be assigned to a Short-A team for the remainder of the season. Already, he’s fine-tuning his focus.
"This is my job now. This is my life. I can’t go there and fool around. I can’t get too overwhelmed. I either play professionally for my life or I have to do something else. Right now, the goal is to do my job."
Hockenberry possesses a solid repertoire, with a four-seam fastball, curveball, and changeup. Several reports clock his fastball as consistently sitting 90-92 mph. As for his cutter, he says it’s more of a slider due to its sharpness.
"In college ball, that pitch was catching a lot more wind," he said.
The 2014 season posed many challenges for Hockenberry, but throughout the season, when so much was unclear, he was spirited by the guys he’d faced all those challenges with.
"I knew no one questioned when I took the mound on Friday nights. And I felt they could play better behind me, knowing that. That gave me pure confidence. I was able to throw all my pitches for strikes and locating all season. "
So the journey begins into professional baseball. He’ll take his flight to Clearwater, Florida, where so many Phillies careers began. And what he wants and needs to turn it all on is quite simple.
"I told the Phillies to give me a uniform and a ball. That’s it."