Eccentric Canterino brings filth, fun to Twins' pitching depth

March 3rd, 2022

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Matt Canterino, like most baseball players, describes himself as a routine-oriented person, and there almost certainly isn't a similar routine anywhere else in baseball -- both on and off the field.

On the field, the Twins' No. 10 prospect (per MLB Pipeline) looks more like he's trying to launch himself into space than deliver a baseball from the mound, courtesy of the jerky, exaggerated vertical motion in his delivery. When he's not on the mound, he goes through three packs of PEZ candies in the dugout per game and organizes competitive games of the board game "Catan" for his teammates in the academy.

That made it all the tougher when he had to step away from the game for most of the 2021 season due to a pair of elbow injuries that limited him to 23 innings across six outings. It came as a relief when imaging revealed that no surgery was needed, and Canterino was able to have a relatively normal offseason leading into Thursday, when his stuff looked as good as ever with a lively fastball that consistently touched 96 mph in live batting practice.

"My injury was just kind of nagging this entire time, and I never really had a feeling that anything was wrong, just in general," Canterino said. "But, obviously, having an MRI to confirm that diagnosis does give you a little bit of relief and it lets you know, going into your rehab program, [that] yes, I am doing the right things and I’m treating this the right way. So that was the best part about it."

Canterino was the final pitcher on the mound during the live session as part of the Twins' first day of organized workouts on Thursday, facing a group of prospects that included shortstop Jermaine Palacios, outfielder Matt Wallner, first baseman Curtis Terry and former Twins outfielder Kyle Garlick.

Though Wallner took him deep over the right-field fence as part of a solid day of barreling the ball for the Minnesota native and club's No. 14-ranked prospect, Canterino also showed a glimpse of the special stuff that allowed him to dominate to the tune of 45 strikeouts against four walks in 23 frames last season. A slider zipped by at 89 mph, and he mixed in his curveball and changeup.

The power slider is exciting and the fastball has ticked way up from his time at Rice University, where he sat in the low 90s, but the changeup is where the most progress has come. It was more of his fourth pitch in college, but it's since turned into an all-out weapon. Canterino utilizes a modified split-changeup grip that really gives it depth and helped him improve even further from an already impressive debut following his selection in the second round of the 2019 MLB Draft, when he posted a 1.44 ERA and 31 strikeouts in 25 innings.

"It was one of those things where I put in some work during 2019 and I felt really good about it in Spring Training of 2020," Canterino said. "Then, obviously, the shutdown happened. But maybe a little bit of some sort of blessing in disguise, because I was able to work on it even more during my off time."

All that work will only pay off against hitters if Canterino can stay healthy and productive for a full season, and workload management will be particularly important for him considering he's pitched 48 competitive innings in three seasons since being drafted. That's all he hopes to accomplish this season -- trying to do everything he can to stay healthy, because he knows as well as everyone else that he's been dominant whenever he's been on the mound.

"I can’t really worry too much about a shutdown period like how my workload’s going to be managed, but I can do the things that I think are going to help me stay healthy in the long run, and then I think an opportunity will come eventually and I’ll just try to run with it whenever that comes," Canterino added.

There's plenty that keeps Canterino busy when he's not on the mound, from the board games like "Catan" and "Pandemic" to hikes with his family to ping pong and magic tricks. Heck, he even had a 3.97 GPA in mechanical engineering as a junior at Rice -- no doubt another indicator of his natural curiosity. His bubbling energy speaks for itself.

The Twins have made it clear that they consider him among the upper echelon of pitchers who could impact the Majors soon. Canterino clearly hopes all that time and energy can go more towards pursuits on the mound than off it -- which hasn't always been in his control in the past.

He's ready to take on that opportunity -- and he's got a brand-new, unopened five-pound bag of PEZ to take him on that journey.