The Tampa Bay Rays selected Matthew Liberatore with the 16th overall pick of the 2018 MLB draft. At the start of the draft, Liberatore was expected to be among the top 5-10 picks. The Rays considered themselves fortunate to find the prep pitcher still available midway through the first round.
After signing, Liberatore made nine starts between the Gulf Coast League Rays and the Princeton Rays. He combined for 32.2 innings with a 1.38 ERA and 2.91 FIP. He struck out 29.1% of batters and walked 10.2%.
Despite the minimal professional track record and mid-first round draft position, Liberatore found himself prominently featured on top 100 lists around the industry. The highest he landed was #36 on Keith Law’s list, and he made an appearance on most top hundred prospect lists.
Liberatore’s fastball has topped out at 97, but seems to lose some zip after a couple innings. His plus to plus-plus curveball is his best secondary pitch although his average to above-average changeup and slider give him the potential for a four pitch mix that could play at the top of the rotation.
Pre-draft video of Liberatore is available thanks to Baseball America.
What to expect in 2019?
Liberatore is likely to go through extended spring training before being assigned to short season ball for the 2019 campaign.
The goal will be gaining strength and focusing on maintaining fastball velocity throughout outings and building up some innings in his first full season as a professional.
It is going to take a while for Liberatore to move through the Rays minor league system. He has the upside that can get us all dreaming of a stellar future, but his road to the majors will likely be lengthy. If things go well you could see Liberatore pitching for the Rays in 2023 or 2024.