To say that Orioles’ 2008 first-round draft choice Brian Matusz is excited about making his professional debut with the Surprise Rafters in the Arizona Fall League is an understatement. The fact that he gets to play in his hometown is expected to make the whole experience even better.
“It’s been about four months since I’ve been able to play,” said the lefthander, “so to be able to play professional ball in my hometown in the Arizona Fall League with all the top players is really quite an honor. I’m excited to get going.”
The Orioles drafted Matusz with the fourth overall pick in June after three seasons at San Diego. The Cave Creek, Ariz., native, who played his high school ball at St. Mary’s High in Phoenix, signed a major league contract just before the Aug. 15 deadline. He spent the last two weeks of the regular season with the Orioles’ short-season affiliate in Aberdeen, Md., but did not pitch for the New York-Penn League team. He’s already got a good idea of what he wants to accomplish during the seven-week AFL season.
“I’m really excited to be out here with a lot of older pitchers,” said Matusz, “being able to pick guys’ brains about what it’s like to play in the minor leagues and what it takes. I’m excited to get out there and work on all four of my pitches and get my command down.”
Matusz will have the added bonus of working with Orioles catching prospect Matt Wieters, Baseball America’s Minor League Player of the Year for the 2008 season.
“He’s a great guy,” Matusz said about Wieters. “I talked to him a bunch today and he said it looks like he’ll be catching me every fifth day. It should be exciting. Hopefully one day I’ll be pitching to him in the bigs. It should be a good start here in the Fall League.”
Matusz is already quite familiar with the Orioles’ rebuilding effort as well as the team’s illustrious history.
“They’re trying to make the moves to compete with the top teams in the American League East,” said Matusz. “You can tell by the type of guys they’re bringing in here ‘¦ a lot of good guys . . . So far it’s been a great experience and everyone is treating me well.”
While in Aberdeen, Matusz threw a few bullpen sessions under the watchful eye of pitching coach Scott McGregor. He was aware of McGregor’s career with the Orioles and the fact that he had pitched for the Orioles in the World Series.
“I tried to pick his brain as much as possible,” said Matusz, “and it was really fun to throw to him.”
The Orioles sent pitcher Jake Arrieta to the Fall League last year before their 2007 fifth-round pick played in the minor league system. The Texas Christian righthander had a solid season in High A in 2008 and appeared with the U.S. team in the Futures Game and in the Olympics.
Like Arrieta, Matusz hopes to use his AFL experience as a springboard to his minor league career.
“Jake came over here and didn’t give up a run the whole time,” said Matusz, “so it’s tough to beat that. I just want to come out, play my game and learn as much as I can.”
The 2005 Arizona prep player of the year, Matusz is also looking forward to returning to Arizona for one other reason—the plethora of golf courses in the Phoenix area.
“One thing I used to do in high school was play golf a lot,” he said. “In college, I didn’t have much time so it’s been about three years since I’ve been able to play golf consistently. I’m excited to be able to get my swing back and play some golf.”
• Righthanders Philip Hughes (Yankees/Peoria Javelinas), Max Scherzer (Diamondbacks/Phoenix Desert Dogs) and Clay Buchholz (Red Sox/Scottsdale Scorpions) are three of the more high-profile pitchers to appear on an AFL roster in the 17-year history of the league. All are looking to make up for time lost to injury or ineffectiveness during the 2008 season. Hughes made only eight starts for the Yankees in 2008 due to a rib injury. He finished at 0-4, 6.62. After pitching 109 innings between the big league team and Triple-A, Scherzer is returning to the AFL to build innings in preparation for being a regular member of the Diamondbacks rotation in 2009. Scherzer missed one month at midseason due to shoulder fatigue. Buchholz struggled in his 15 Red Sox starts after pitching a no-hitter in his second major league start during the 2007 season, finishing at 2-9, 6.75. He spent time on the disabled list due to a broken fingernail on his pitching hand.
• The Rangers added Justin Smoak, the 11th overall pick in the 2008 draft, to the Surprise Rafter roster as a taxi squad member, eligible to play on Wednesday and Saturdays. The switch-hitting first baseman played 14 games low Class A Clinton in his professional debut and has been participating in instructional league since mid-September.