Potential First-Rounders Matthew Liberatore, Nolan Gorman Meet in Arizona Showdown
Matthew Liberatore and Nolan Gorman have been teammates, roommates and best friends since they first started playing baseball together at the age of five. Now, they are the two best high school baseball players in Arizona, both projected to be first-round picks a little more than a month from now in the annual MLB draft.
But on Thursday night, for just the fourth time in their baseball careers, Liberatore and Gorman were opponents, as Mountain Ridge (Riverdale, Ariz.) High and Sandra Day O'Connor (Phoenix) High squared off in a highly anticipated game that was moved to nearby Grand Canyon University's new facility.
Liberatore, a lefthander currently ranked No. 3 on BA's Top 300 draft prospects list, and his Mountain Ridge teammates had the upper hand in this matchup, however, squeaking out a 2-1 win over O'Connor. Liberatore earned the win by pitching 5.1 innings, yielding only one unearned run while giving up two hits, walking three batters and striking out 13. His fastball sat 90-94 mph, and the 6-foot-5 southpaw also mixed in his wipeout curveball, changeup and slider, the latter of which is a more recent addition to his now four-pitch arsenal.
Liberatore commented after the game that he felt he was effective early in the outing due to his fastball command, later slowing down his tempo and using the curveball and slider more effectively. Scouts noted that while he has good-to-plus arm speed when he gets in the right slot, Liberatore doesn't always repeat his arm action. Liberatore's curveball, however, has a chance to be a real out pitch and his solid frame indicates there may be more velocity in time.
Regarding the slider that he recently started using, Liberatore said that it wasn't as consistent as in a previous outing.
“I left a couple up (in the strike zone) tonight,” he said, “but for the most part it had good bite.”
Gorman, who plays third base for O'Connor and is ranked No. 6 among BA's Top 300 draft prospects, went 0-for-3 against Liberatore, flying out to right field, striking out and then grounding back to the pitcher in his final at-bat. Scouts like the raw power and bat speed from his compact swing, although there are indications that he may be pressing as the draft approaches and not getting his foot down in time is affecting his timing. Defensively, he seems to have enough agility and arm strength to stay at the hot corner as a professional.
Regardless of the outcome, both Liberatore and Gorman agreed that playing against each other brings out the best in each other.
“He always gives me a nod before he gets in the box,” Liberatore said about Gorman. “We're probably going to text after this game and maybe go out to dinner. On the field we're competitors, but off the field we're still friends.”
Liberatore acknowledged that his focus increases when Gorman steps into the batter's box, helping to push him to be the best that he can be on every pitch. Gorman takes the same attitude into the box against Liberatore.
“It was fun. He goes after me and I go after him,” Gorman said. “I wasn't going to let him beat me. I put the ball in play. As a team, we did what we needed to do … we got him out of there, we got his pitch count up.”
2018 Appalachian League Top 20 MLB Prospects
While performance is taken into consideration, tools and future projections by scouts are paramount.
Moving the game to Grand Canyon's sparkling new facility turned out to be a wise move, with 150 to 200 scouts and MLB team personnel on-site, as well as several hundred more fans. That size of crowd would have been a tight fit at O'Connor's campus field.
“It's a wonderful stadium,” said O'Connor coach Jeff Baumgartner. “So when they constructed this we talked with the coaches at Grand Canyon about getting down here and playing a game …. In talking to the scouts, their feeling was with Liberatore going and Nolan hitting, there would be close to 200 scouts and personnel here … Both of our fields are nice but a little small for the scouts to see what they want to see, so this gives them a chance to see with a clear view.”