White Sox select the 2nd French player in the Draft

July 11th, 2023

Take a peek at this spring's World Baseball Classic and you'll see that the European game is fast becoming a force to be reckoned with: Great Britain, the Czech Republic, and Italy all not only won ballgames, but secured their place in the 2026 tournament, too.

France may be the next nation to join in on the fun -- especially if fireballing right-hander Mathias LaCombe, selected in the 12th round out of Cochise College by the White Sox, takes the next step in his development. This spring, LaCombe struck out 97 batters and walked just 14 in 67 1/3 IP while posting a 1.74 ERA for Cochise as a sophomore. 

Originally tipped off by his Cochise College coach, White Sox area scout John Kazanas wasn't initially overwhelmed by what he saw. But when he returned to see LaCombe pitch this spring, his opinion was radically altered.

"I saw him last year but nothing came out to tell me, 'Wow,' until this year," Kazanas said. "He came in relief against South Mountain junior college and I believe he threw four or five innings of shutout ball. The life of the fastball, the arm strength that he possessed, the looseness in his arm, just the definition of his body for projection -- all of a sudden, [I thought], 'Holy smokes!'"

Kazanas was so impressed by the young Frenchman's performance that White Sox area supervisor Ryan Dorsey then made the journey to see him pitch despite it taking a 3 1/2 hour car trip in each direction. That decision to get an extra pair of eyes on the youngster paid off when the White Sox took LaCombe with the 359th overall selection.

"I was so happy. I jumped and ran everywhere," LaCombe told MLB.com from his home near Bordeaux, France after being selected. "That was such a beautiful moment. My dad was the same. He was so excited. He cried."

Armed with a fastball that can reach the mid-90s and an inconsistent-if-strong slider, LaCombe is just the second-ever French-born player selected in the Draft after Joris Bert was picked in the 19th round by the Dodgers in the 2007 Draft. Bert played two seasons in Rookie ball, something that the French Baseball Federation is hoping LaCombe can improve upon.

"It's more pride than pressure," LaCombe said about being picked, claiming that his best skill is how cold-blooded he can be on the mound. "I'm really, really proud and I can't wait to show what I got."

That reputation is backed up by Kazanas, who claims many teams were hoping to land the right-hander.

"He is driven to be the first French player to play in the big leagues," Kazanas said. "When he goes back to France, he's going to make an impact on hundreds of kids who have that same dream."

The pitcher recently represented the nation at the World Baseball Classic qualifiers in Regensburg, pitching one inning and giving up one run and striking out two against Great Britain. It was the type of performance from the then-20-year-old that has the nation dreaming of the future.

"Play for the national team and succeed at the World Baseball Classic qualifier: That's our goal in the next four years," Boris Rothermundt, the assistant national technical director of the French Baseball and Softball Federation, as well as the first French player to have played college baseball in the United States, said. "Mathias has been our future in terms of the World Baseball Classic qualifier, so we've got four years to build a team around [him and 15-year-old pitching prospect Ben Couvreur] and around other players that have either university experience or professional experience. If we qualify for the next World Baseball Classic, that will help us a lot for sure."

Perhaps shockingly for a player who has become such an important part of the national team, LaCombe didn't immediately pop when he first entered the academy.

"He was in the regional academy in Bourdeaux. He was more of an infielder/pitcher," Rothermundt said. "He didn't have great velocity, but he had good arm action and we liked the way he moved. He was not a big body yet. When he arrived at the national academy, that's where he grew very fast. His velo got higher and higher."

The two sides have reportedly agreed to terms and LaCombe will soon travel to America to begin his professional career.

Kazanas does have one piece of advice that he hopes the youngster will follow:

"I told him he should text [Victor] Wembanyama and say, 'Listen, you might be the first number one pick from France in the NBA, but heck, I'm the first MLB player ever taken."

While we know LaCombe can throw the ball a little better than Wembanyama, one thing is for certain: He's definitely not overwhelmed by the moment.

"I'm not scared," LaCombe said. "I just want to be the best and beat everybody."