Matt Festa, The Uncommon Reliever
The Mariners made righthander Matt Festa the highest drafted player ever from East Stroudsburg (Pa.) when they selected him in the seventh round in 2016.
That was general manager Jerry Dipoto’s first draft class in Seattle, and Festa became Dipoto's first pick to reach the big leagues when he debuted last July.
"I felt like I had earned my spot to get promoted,” said Festa, 26. "I just didn’t think it would be to the big leagues so soon. I was overwhelmed, and my family was overwhelmed.”
"I mean, I’ve played with and against a lot of people from a lot of big schools. Coming from a small Division II (school), I’ve always played with a chip on my shoulder and that’s kept me going. I always think back to that.”
Festa played high school ball on Staten Island, then stayed local by heading to D-II Dominican College in Orangeburg, N.Y., before transferring to East Stroudsburg. He worked as a starter in college but converted to relief in pro ball.
Festa made Seattle's Opening Day roster for the Japan series but was quickly optioned to Triple-A Tacoma, where he worked to refine his slider to help complement a fastball that sits 94-96 mph. His pitch variety sets him apart from other relievers.
Festa has a five-pitch arsenal with a four-seam fastball, two-seamer, slider, curveball and changeup, and he trusts them all for strikes, which is uncommon for relievers.
"I haven’t thrown my changeup in two years, but I throw it every day in my throwing program,” Festa said. "The mindset, and the way I want to use my pitches, is the exact same from when I was starting.”
It’s helped him quickly become a rising talent in the organization, which also means more eyes on him. Not that he really thinks about that.
"I try to show up to the yard every day with the same mindset—the most important part of the day is those three hours on the field,” Festa said. "Whatever happens that day, I wake up the next day and show up to the yard ready to work again. I still do that.”
— After struggling in his first two starts in the organization, Tacoma lefthander Justus Sheffield followed with his best start. He improved his fastball command and went 6.2 innings with two runs allowed on 84 pitches at El Paso on April 17.
— Double-A Arkansas righthander Justin Dunn was leading the Texas League with 21 strikeouts after his third start, despite not having pitched more than five innings in any of them. Righthanders Ljay Newsome and Logan Gilbert were also leading the California and South Atlantic leagues, respectively, in strikeouts.