GLENDALE, Ariz.—Spring training games are in full swing as the Cactus League opened last week. As the major leaguers work to get in shape, one of Arizona’s top high school players looked in mid-season form. Mountain Ridge High (Glendale, Ariz.) lefthander Matthew Liberatore lived up to his billing on Wednesday in front of nearly 150 scouts, cross-checkers, scouting directors and front office personnel. Liberatore is one of two highly touted prospects (along with infielder Nolan Gorman) in Phoenix that will be heavily scouted this spring.
The 6-foot-5 lefty was impressive from the first pitch to the last. His loose arm, easy three-quarter delivery and smooth mechanics drew comparisons ranging from Cole Hamels to Steve Avery. His first pitch clocked in at 92 mph. He generally sat at 92-93 and touched 95 on a few pitches early in the game. As the outing wore on into the middle innings, he settled in at 90-91 as he continued to cruise through the opposing lineup. His competitiveness ramped up in the 7th inning after the opposition managed to get a runner to third base who then successfully stole home. After some chirping from the opposing bench, he reached back for 94 and 95 mph before dropping a 73 mph curveball for a strikeout to end the game.
Liberatore showed good depth on his 73-74 mph 12-to-6 curveball. He flashed an 84 mph changeup, but his fastball and breaking ball were so dominant that he barely used it. He has a real good frame and still some projection to his already plus fastball.
One NL scout noted, “His fastball when down really has plus run and sink to it. I also liked that if he flies open or rushes a little he has the ability to correct it the next pitch.”
An AL scout was impressed with “his easy delivery, ability to repeat, ability to reach back and get a little extra when he needed it. Pretty impressive performance.”
The lefthander pitched seven innings, giving up just three hits, one earned run with one walk and 14 strikeouts to earn the complete game win while throwing around 90 pitches. In addition, he hit a batter and picked off a baserunner.
Head coach Artie Cox said after the game that he’s impressed with “his competitiveness, his preparation, the time he puts in to get ready to pitch. He has a great work ethic and is a leader not just by example but by keeping guys up in the dugout, keeping players in the game.”
“We stressed that it’s just another game when you’re between the lines,” Cox said, referencing the 100+ scouts and personnel in the stands. “We had a scrimmage last week with probably 45-50 scouts there so that helped from a preparation standpoint. Once he threw the first pitch for a strike, I felt like he was going to be OK.
“As good as he was today, he’s been even better. There have been times where his curveball has been sharper and he’s been able to throw it in any count for a strike. He’s a pretty special player.”
The amateur draft is still three months away but one thing is for sure, scouts will pack the stands when Liberatore makes his starts this spring.
Therron Brockish has more than 20 years of experience as a college coach and as an amateur scout. He served as an assistant coach at Wayne State, Ball State and Arizona Christian and as head coach at Iowa Western CC, and he worked for six years as an area scout with the Philadelphia Phillies, signing big leaguers Jason Donald, Tuffy Gosewisch and Lou Marson during that time.