The close friendship of two top Draft prospects

High school lefty Liberatore, third baseman Gorman go way back

January 9th, 2020

This story originally ran on May 31, 2018

PEORIA, Ariz. -- There will be a Draft day celebration at Matthew Liberatore's home Monday.

The party will likely start at the left-handed pitching prospect's dining table with some pizza, or maybe in the large room next to the kitchen with family and a few close friends. Knowing him, it could move upstairs to the game room, where his childhood baseball photos line the walls, the exercise equipment rests on the floor and the pingpong table is always in play.

There will be texting -- a lot of texts -- and maybe even a few games of "Fortnite" in between the flurry of messages to family and friends.

A couple of miles away, third-base prospect Nolan Gorman and his immediate family will also watch his own future unfold. His gathering will take place in the same living room where he and his father used to play catch in front of the television and drive his mom crazy. Like Liberatore, Gorman is expected to be selected in the first round of the 2018 MLB Draft, and he's also keeping the get-together low-key. Any celebration, at least initially, will be a small one, full of joy and happy tears.

Gorman is probably going fishing the next morning, anyway. A small boat is on his wish list.

The real baseball party will start when the Liberatores and Gormans meet for one more family gathering before the next phase of their lives begin. Matthew and Nolan met when they played on the same neighborhood coach pitch team at age 5, and their relationship blossomed through travel baseball, elite programs like Team USA, summertime sleepovers and bike rides through the neighborhood. Soon these baseball brothers and their close-knit families will take their first steps toward finding out if professional baseball is in the future or if the teens will be together at the University of Arizona, where they both committed to play.

"To be able to come this far, for both of us being able to do it, it's pretty surreal, because we're not just two crazy kids talking about a crazy dream anymore," Liberatore said. "It might actually happen. We might have those opportunities. All the work we've put in to this point, all the behind-the-scenes stuff and the sacrifices we've made, are finally coming to fruition and starting to pay off."

Liberatore, MLB Pipeline's No. 4 Draft prospect, cruised through the high school season, posting a 0.93 ERA with 104 strikeouts in 60 1/3 innings for Mountain Ridge High School, including a 13-strikeout performance against Gorman, whom he struck out once, at Sandra Day O'Connor High School on April 19.

Liberatore also threw 12 shutout innings for the 18U U.S. National Team and struck out 10 of the final 17 batters he faced at the National High School Invitational. He was recently named Gatorade Arizona Baseball Player of the Year.

"Pitching in high-pressure situations and situations where you need to perform, if you want to have success, I think that definitely prepares us for the next level," Liberatore said. "That's something I look forward to doing. I look forward to performing in front of a ton of people or under pressure. I feel like I perform better, and I feel like [Nolan] is the same way."

Gorman has the best power in the Draft, and he showed it off while winning both the High School Home Run Derby at the 2017 All-Star Game in Miami and the home run contest at the 2017 Under Armour All-America Game at Wrigley Field. He also hit 10 homers and slashed .421/.641/.894 this season.

The slugger, named the No. 12 Draft prospect by MLB Pipeline, also helped his Sandra Day O'Connor team top Liberatore's Mountain Ridge for the Arizona state title. Liberatore did not pitch in the final game.

"He's gotten me a few times. I got him in playoffs," Gorman said. "No home runs, but that would've been pretty cool. I think everything just stopped when I came up to the plate and he was on the mound, and everyone just stopped and watched it all happen."

The players' parents -- Anthony and Lauri Liberatore along with Brian and Jennifer Gorman -- have spent more than a dozen years together watching from the stands. Like other parents of newly graduated high school seniors across the country, the Liberatores and Gormans are experiencing pride, but also the bittersweet feeling that comes with watching their little boys grow into young men. The teens have leaned on each other for support throughout the years, and the parents have helped each other, too.

"I can pick up the phone and have a very honest conversation with Brian about what I'm feeling, what I'm going through. And maybe it's not all that exciting sometimes, maybe it's stressful too, and to have somebody else that's in that same position is helpful," Anthony Liberatore said. "You have people that go, 'Stressful? Come on. To be in that spot is what every Dad wants.' But it can be that way at times if you let it be, and it's really nice to have [the Gormans]."

What happens to the prospects Monday will help set the course for the rest of their lives. What's happened so far has helped set the foundation of baseball and family.

"I remember they would always play catch in our family room and I would be like, 'Stop. Throwing. The. Ball,'" Jennifer Gorman said. "Because I would be watching TV and it would be going, 'boom, boom, boom' back and forth. I'm glad they never quit, because he maybe wouldn't be here now."