Liberatore’s competitiveness makes him top MLB draft prospect
PHOENIX — Often the week after high school commencement, graduates are making summer plans with friends and family and reflecting on what to do with their lives before starting the next phase of their education.
Matthew Liberatore, a graduate of Glendale’s Mountain Ridge High School, is preparing for his baseball future.
Liberatore, a left-handed pitcher, is the second-ranked prospect in the class of 2018, according to Perfect Game scouting service, and predicted by many to be the first high school player to be selected in Monday’s MLB Draft. Liberatore also is committed to the University of Arizona to play baseball in the spring.
“I feel like I have a Plan A and a Plan A right now,” Liberatore said. “There really isn’t a bad choice.”
Liberatore started playing baseball at 3 when his father, Anthony, introduced him to T-ball. It wasn’t intentional, his father said, to have his son become one of the most sought out left-handed pitchers in the country. He just wanted to have his son play all sports until one stuck.
Now Matthew and baseball are inseparable.
“First year in kid-pitch, he’s on the mound and he’s throwing harder than most of the kids and he absolutely drills a kid in the back,” Anthony said. “He hit him so hard the ball rolled halfway back to the mound. He walks off the mound, walking towards the kid, and I’m thinking he wants to check on him and make sure he’s OK.
“He got halfway there, picked up the ball, turned around, walked back up to the mound and got right in to throw the next pitch. It’s unusual to see that from a 7-year-old.”
The competitiveness never left Matthew. Now 18, he still finds pleasure at being the best at whatever he does, whether it be baseball or ping-pong.
“I think I’ve just always been just super competitive. I hate losing,” Matthew said. “I hate not being the best at something. When I’m not the best at something, or do lose something, I continuously work until I am the best at it or until I can win every single time, which is usually never the case, so I’m always working.
“I play ping-pong. I have a ping pong table at my house and I don’t lose very much because I play all the time and I hate losing. When I go fishing I want to catch the most fish. In bowling I want to get the highest score, all that kind of stuff. Pretty much everything that I do, I am pretty competitive at.”
“He’s not going to give up until he has perfected whatever it is he is trying to do,” his father said. “When I got him rollerblades, a Ripstik, a Pogo Stick, you name it. He would totally obsess over it until he mastered it.”
Although many believe Matthew is the best high school baseball prospect in the nation, Nolan Gorman, his best friend since both were 5, is not far behind him.
Gorman, a third baseman, is also committed to UA and projected to be a Top 10 draft pick.
“They’re both very competitive and driven, and would push each other as teammates or opponents,” Anthony said. “Even before they could drive, they would be riding their bikes to workouts, Saturdays at 6 in the morning on Deer Valley Road. There was that level of commitment from both of them, even at an early age. You had a combination of physical talent, a desire, competitiveness and determination.”
Gorman keeps Matthew on his toes, humbling him and making him work harder to become a better baseball player. Still, Matthew may not need a motivating force to become the best pitcher he can be because he’s already uber competitive.
Jon Huizinga noticed Matthew’s extreme level of competitiveness during one of their first training sessions. Huizinga, Matthew’s trainer since he was 11, remembers their first workout, where Matthew was struggling with a jump rope exercise. The next day he showed up and looked like an expert. The night before he had bought a jump rope at Sports Chalet and practiced all night until he got it right.
“It was on a daily basis with him,” Huizinga said. “He’s bought into this idea, it’s really a mentality, that your are your own competition. It’s you today versus you yesterday. The goal is to get a little bit better every day.”
Matthew hasn’t thrown a baseball since his high school’s semifinal playoff game on May 12 and continues to do “maintenance work” with Huizinga as the draft approaches. However, Matthew’s road to the big leagues is still hazy without knowing what Major League Baseball franchise will select him.
“We’re going to see how things play out,” Anthony said. “Obviously you read any mock draft and people are predicting that he is going to be a high pick and that will be great if that happens. Plan A is he’s going to school until the draft happens and then we’ll see what takes place there.”
Matthew’s options aren’t the worst for a recent high school graduate: either play three to four years at a top collegiate baseball program or sign with the team that drafted you and get a head start on a professional career. So far, Matthew has been trying to keep a level head among all the noise on social media about him and tries not to pay attention to it.
“It’s easy to be caught up in where Baseball America has you put or where, whoever, has you put in the mock draft,” Matthew said. “It’s easy to get caught up in that and stress yourself out, or freak yourself out about it, so I tried to stay away from it. At the end of the day they aren’t making the picks, the teams are.”