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Liberatore poised to move quickly up system

@JonathanMayo
March 25, 2019

PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. -- When Cardinals third-base prospect Nolan Gorman homered in a big league Spring Training game on March 16, no one was more excited than Rays left-handed pitching prospect Matthew Liberatore. Liberatore, the Rays’ first-round pick last June and their No. 5 prospect per MLB Pipeline, knows all

PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. -- When Cardinals third-base prospect Nolan Gorman homered in a big league Spring Training game on March 16, no one was more excited than Rays left-handed pitching prospect Matthew Liberatore.

Liberatore, the Rays’ first-round pick last June and their No. 5 prospect per MLB Pipeline, knows all about Gorman’s power. The pair grew up together in Arizona and were both top high school talents from the state in the 2018 Draft class. Liberatore went No. 16 overall; his friend went three spots later. So the big lefty was ecstatic when Gorman went deep in Grapefruit League action.

Rays prospects at Spring Training | Rays' Top 30 | Spring Training stats

“We talk pretty much every day, even if it’s not actually texting, we have our Snapchat streak, we know what each of us is doing every day,” Liberatore said. “The day he hit the home run, I was just blowing him up. That was pretty surreal. It doesn’t feel real that my best friend I’ve known since I was 5 years old is playing in professional baseball, hitting against Max Scherzer and hitting home runs off of big league guys.”

Gorman may have put his name on the big league map first, but both Arizona products have the chance to be impact players in the Majors. Liberatore, who is every bit the 6-foot-5 he is listed at, is going through the paces during his first Spring Training, preparing for his first full season of pro ball armed with the stuff and pitchabilty not typically seen from prep pitchers.

“I know I’m going to throw a lot more innings this year than I ever have before, so I came into Spring Training a little bit heavier knowing that probably during the season I was going to lose some of that weight,” said Liberatore, who threw 32 2/3 solid innings during his pro debut. “We came up with some routines I can go through for mobility, stability, flexibility, all that kind of stuff to keep me healthy and keep my body feeling good and athletic, keep me going for a full season.”

After combining for around 100 innings between his high school season and his pro debut, Liberatore guesses he’ll get to around 115 innings if all goes well this year, knowing Tampa Bay will be conservative with his usage. It seems likely he’ll start the year in extended spring camp in Port Charlotte, before eventually being sent out, with full-season Class A Bowling Green seeming to be his likely first stop.

While the Rays may be cautious with Liberatore in his first full season, it's easy to see the lefty being a prospect who moves up quickly. With four above-average-to-plus pitches to go along with above-average command, Liberatore almost profiles like an advanced college lefty, and that could propel him up the ladder fairly quickly. A quick learner, he already has taken lessons from his relatively brief debut with him into this year.

“It wasn’t so much stuff or competitiveness or so much on the field,” Liberatore said. “The biggest thing I noticed is I needed to develop a routine. In high school, that wasn’t so much the case. Coming out here and coming out to the field every single day and we have our things we go through, all the travel and bus rides that we didn’t have in high school, it builds up. You need to have your flexibility and mobility routines, your morning prep, your pregame routine, even getting into a sleep schedule where you’re getting to bed early and you wake up feeling rested and energized and ready to go. Kind of finding that routine was probably the biggest adjustment for me.”

And if pitching doesn’t work out, Liberatore can always team up with his buddy Gorman for some carnival tricks. During the offseason, a video tweeted out by the duo created some buzz:

“He came over for dinner one night and we were just messing around,” Liberatore said. “We had a squishy ball, a little foam ball I’ve had for years sitting upstairs. We both came up with the idea, ‘Why don’t you try to spin around and catch it and I’m going to throw it as hard as I can.’ That video of him spinning was actually the second try. I threw the first one, it hit off his hand. I threw the second one and he caught it. It kind of came out of nowhere.”

Jonathan Mayo is a reporter for MLBPipeline.com. Follow him on Twitter @JonathanMayo and Facebook, and listen to him on the weekly Pipeline Podcast.