Goodbye, Mr. Arozarena. I loved you. You loved me. I'll miss you.
Goodbye, Mr. Martinez. You're the most entertaining human being I've ever watch in a dugout.
HELLO, 20-year-old phenom (we'll get to the catcher, Edgardo Rodriguez soon enough)!
There are plenty of scouting reports out there on Matthew Liberator. And I've only just begun digging into this young man at about 5:30 this morning. I've watched roughly three of his last starts during the 2019 season for Bowling Green, and there are a couple of things that really stick out to me.
THESE ARE THOSE QUICK THOUGHTS. I'M ON LUNCH AND I ONLY HAVE 30 MINUTES TO POUND THIS OUT, FAM. Like with most things that I write, this is stream of consciousness. This is worse, however, because I'm rushing myself.
First, as I'm sure you've heard, Liberatore and Cardinals top prospect Nolan Gorman are childhood friends. Rob Rains wrote about it better than anyone else could have, and you can read that by following this link.
NOW, WE SCOUT
The first thing that really stands out about Liberatore is his size. His 6'5" frame really stands out, and he has that frame pretty well filled out for a 20-year-old. I find his mechanics fascinating. From the behind-pitcher angle, it looks like he has a short stride. When you look at it from the side, he does average-to-good extension, but you really get a feel for just how big he is. Liberatore usually sets up just on the 3rd base side of the mound, and he comes from a bit of a 3/4 slot, but with an incredible short and quick arm action. Sometimes he throws off-balance and gets open and circular with his shoulder. More often than not, Liberatore maintains good balance through his delivery.
While I worry about his lack of strikeouts and his somewhat high walk rate, I've been encouraged by the lack of solid contact I've seen against him. This goes for both lefties and righties, and I can't help but think that both of those rates are going to go in the desired direction if his fastball was a little harder and more consistent (more on that in a bit). It's a total throw away because it can be said about every pitcher in the history of... ever, but Liberatore becomes both unpredictable and nearly unhittable when he is working ahead in a count.
One area that he is going to have to improve is his speed to the plate. I'm anxious to watch more of him, but it appears that he is slow to the plate. He has a pretty great pick off move to first base (as most lefties do), but I've watched too many bases stolen off of him because of his speed to the plate. He also has a tendency to not even look at the runner. Obviously, that'll have to change.
Another fun thing, and you'll see it in the gif below, is that Liberatore will change his delivery to mess with the timing of a hitter. So far, he usually only does this when he is in full command. I love it. You'll see three different motions to the plate on three different pitches:
In the gif above, you'll notice that the poor lefty didn't stand a chance against any of the three curveballs that Liberatore threw him. I'm going to go ahead and call that a theme because lefties generally don't stand a chance against Liberatore's potential-plus curve. He commands it extremely well, and he repeats his delivery with it almost always. It's a swing and miss pitch when thrown to both lefties and righties, and he's a monster when he's sequencing his fastball inside.
In regards to his fastball, it's a very solid pitch, but it needs more work. I've seen it described as a "plus" pitch, but it was average (flashing above) during the three starts that I've watched. He lives between 91-93 MPH with the fastball, and while it's been reported that he tops out at 95, I've only seen him hit 94 a couple of times. Mostly, it's 91-92, with a top out around 93. When he's using it in on the hands of lefties, it'll saw them off. He has above average command of the pitch, and flashes plus command-wise. It also demonstrates some impressive glove-side run, at times.
I've heard a lot of talk about his changeup, but I haven't seen enough of it to really feel comfortable committing to an evaluation of it. From what I have seen, it has tremendous downward break, but he doesn't command it particularly well. This goes double when he's throwing it harder. It's commanded best in the 81-82 range, but it starts to get funky and overthrown when he tries to pump up the velocity. As everyone knows, the changeup is a feel pitch. Sometimes you have it and sometimes you don't. I'm anxious to jump into more starts to have a better understanding of it.
Over these three starts, the pitch that I've been most impressed with is his slider. The slider is electric when used beside the loopy curve and the glove-side run of his fastball. He also commands it well, and appears to manipulate the velocity of it regularly. I've seen what appears to be a 79-ish MPH slider and a 86-ish MPH slider. He'll get out in front of the pitch a little sometimes, but he has tremendous feel for the pitch. In my mind, it's the second best pitch in his arsenal behind the curve.
Speaking of having different opinions on left handed pitchers best pitch, this kind of reminds me of when everyone kept saying that ZacK Thompson's best secondary offering was his slider when it was clearly his curve. Thompson is more fastball/curve and Liberatore is more curve/slider, in my opinion (it'll be fun to watch everyone backtrack on Thompson, so keep an eye out for that!)
During his July 30th start against The Dayton Dragons (the last start that I watched), Liberatore really battled his command. Over two innings, he allowed seven hits, four walks, and four runs without striking out anyone. I really wanted to key in on this start. First, I apologize for not having more time to make more gifs. You'll have to come back for his Dirty Thirty-Five write-up for that. What became clear to me is that this bulldog-type pitcher wasn't particularly happy with the strike zone on this day, and he let it get to him.
In particular, Liberatore wasn't getting the outside strike with his fastball against righties. He got frustrated by it, and it was hurting his command and he was losing poise. This start was also the least lively his fastball was of the three I watched, and I think that the real issue was that the late break to the glove side on his fastball just wasn't happening. NOW, I'm DEFINITELY NOT saying that poise is an issue with this young man. He's smart and talented, and he feisty mentality that he displays on the mound is going to take him far. Just that, on this particular day (his worst start of the season), nothing seemed to work for him.
THE IDIOTS GUY TO A BOTTOM LINE...
... here is that the Cardinals made a very smart move to acquire potentially elite pitching depth at the cost of their redundant outfield depth. Liberatore is an immensely talented pitcher that appears to have all of the makings of a major league starter. He has some work to do with consistency of command, repeatability of motion, and poise, but no more than 99.5% of 20 year old prospects. He still has work to do, but all of the foundational building blocks are there for stardom.
We'll have more info for you in a month or so when we get to the Dirty Thirty-Five of course, but get yourself excited about this young man in the meantime!
Thanks to FanGraphs for the stats!
Thanks For Reading!!