The typical spring sun is finally shining down on Arizona where it has been unusually “cold” for the area, but it has been unusually hot amateur in scouting circles in north Phoenix.
Two of Baseball America’s top six draft prospects, and both ranking in the top four on MLB.com, play their high school baseball inside six miles of one another: Matthew Liberatore at Mountain Ridge and Nolan Gorman of Sandra Day O’Connor.
I will be catching Gorman again this week and will write him up after that, but Liberatore has a real chance to go number one in the draft this year. I have seen Liberatore double digit times since his freshman year, and he has long shown an advanced feel for pitching.
The 6’5” lefty pitcher is a throw back of sorts as he is not going to light up the radar gun, but he can pitch well beyond his years. He can still touch 95-96 MPH but typically sits in the 91-94 MPH range with his fastball. Coming from a loose three quarter slot means he gets good run on the fastball and can really locate it.
He also features a 12-6 curve that is just plain not fair for most high school competition, even in a division that features nationally ranked Pinnacle High and O’Connor that has Gorman and Oregon State commit Jayce Easley. Because his fastball and curve are so dominant he hardly needs to use his changeup, which just might be his best pitch.
His change comes out of the same slot as his fastball, just 8-10 MPH slower than his fastball with the same run and add dip to it. Because it slows into a lot of high school bat speed, he only breaks out a few a game, but it will be a plus pitch the moment he steps onto a pro field.
What is even more impressive is Liberatore is not afraid to start an at-bat with his off-speed stuff, and will even throw his curve while behind in the count. His mix of command and stuff makes him as polished a prep pitcher the top of the draft has seen in some time and it will be fascinating to see how he is evaluated by teams.
There is some concern about his upside, because he isn’t the type of pitcher that sits in the upper-90s (although touching it is not out of the question) and does not have a power breaking pitch, he doesn’t project like your typical, front of the rotation arm. Instead he is a rare high floor high school arm that has the potential to be a quick mover.
I put his ceiling as a number two starter and a likely outcome as a strong number three. I will also be really interested to see where he debuts, as his stuff should allow him to skip the complex leagues if the team that drafts him feels like starting him off aggressively.