ST. PETERSBURG -- On Friday, the Tampa Bay Rays announced the signing of left-hander Matthew Liberatore, the club's No. 1 pick in the 2018 MLB Draft and the No. 16 selection overall. He will join the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League Rays.According to MLB.com's Jim Callis, Liberatore signed for $3.5 million."Super
ST. PETERSBURG -- On Friday, the Tampa Bay Rays announced the signing of left-hander Matthew Liberatore, the club's No. 1 pick in the 2018 MLB Draft and the No. 16 selection overall. He will join the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League Rays.
According to MLB.com's Jim Callis, Liberatore signed for $3.5 million.
"Super excited [about signing]," Liberatore said. "I was actually signing the contract and started to get chills. This is something every kid dreams of. And for most kids, that doesn't become a reality. Today, I made that a reality. I'm pretty excited to get started."
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Liberatore, 18, went 8-1 with a 0.93 ERA and 104 strikeouts as a senior at Mountain Ridge (Ariz.) High School and was Arizona's Gatorade Baseball Player of the Year. He was named a first-team Rawlings/Perfect Game All-American for this past season, and helped lead Mountain Ridge to the Class 6A state championship game.
Last summer, Liberatore pitched 12 scoreless innings for USA Baseball's 18U National Team and recorded the win in its gold medal game over Korea.
"As an organization, we believe that Matthew has the physical and mental ability to develop into a top-end starting pitching prospect," said Rob Metzler, the Rays' director of amateur scouting. "Through hard work to this point in his career, Matthew has shown an advanced ability to compete with an impressive repertoire of pitches and an arm action and delivery built for sustained success.
"On top of his physical ability, he is a young man with strong character and a great mental foundation for playing baseball. We believe these ingredients will continue to flourish in our system. We are thrilled that we were able to complete a deal so quickly after the Draft in order to get Matthew started on his professional journey."
Liberatore, who had committed to the University of Arizona, will join the Gulf Coast League Rays on Wednesday.
"College was always a part of the picture, and always a possibility, but I felt like this was definitely the right fit for my family and I," Liberatore said. "So once I figured that was the right decision, then I wanted to get it done as quick as possible."
Liberatore called the Rays "a great organization known for developing pitchers."
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"David Price came up through this organization," Liberatore said. "He was the face of the franchise for a number of years, kind of led the team. That's a role that I want to fill one day.
"At the end of the day, [pitching] is my favorite thing in the whole world," he added. "So I think when I get the opportunity to step on the mound for the first time wearing a Rays uniform, I think that's what I'm most excited for."
MLB.com ranked Liberatore as the No. 4 overall player in this year's Draft. The Rays selected him higher than any other high school pitcher in club history, and he became the fourth high school pitcher selected by the Rays in the first round, following Jason Standridge (No. 31) in 1997, Christopher Guerrieri (No. 24) in 2011 and Blake Snell (No. 52) in 2011.
Only five pitchers have ever been drafted higher by the Rays: Dewon Brazelton (No. 3) in 2001, Jeff Niemann (No. 4) in 2004, Wade Townsend (No. 8) in 2005, Price (No. 1) in 2007 and Brendan McKay (No. 4) in 2017.
Liberatore was one of five selections made by the Rays on the first day of the Draft, along with left-handed pitcher Shane McClanahan (University of South Florida), center fielder Nick Schnell (Roncalli High School), shortstop Tyler Frank (Florida Atlantic University) and center fielder and right-handed pitcher Tanner Dodson (University of California).
Liberatore joins Frank as the only two players to sign from the Rays' Day 1 selections.
The Rays also announced the signing of their fourth-round Draft pick (107th overall), Tulane outfielder Grant Witherspoon. The 6-foot-3, 200-pound Witherspoon was named first-team All-American Athletic Conference and led Tulane in batting (.330), doubles (19), home runs (12), RBIs (53) and stolen bases (13).
Bill Chastain has covered the Rays for MLB.com since 2005.