Rays pick Mountain Ridge’s Liberatore at No. 16

Matthew Liberatore pitches in a game this spring at Mountain Ridge High School in Glendale. The recent MRHS graduate was chosen with the #16 pick in the Major League Baseball draft by the Tampa Bay Rays. [Donna Mundy/For West Valley Preps]

Richard Smith
West Valley Preps

The Major League Baseball draft remains the most predictable in major North American team sports.

Monday’s early rounds proved no exception. Recent Mountain Ridge graduate Matthew Liberatore and childhood friend (and friendly rival) Nolan Gorman of O’Connor High School in northwest Phoenix were projected as top 10 picks by a majority of baseball media.

Neither did.

The Tampa Bay Rays chose Liberatore, a 6-5 lefthanded pitcher, with the No. 16 pick. Gorman, a power hitting third baseman, went to the St. Louis Cardinals.

In an interview with the Rays’ site on mlb.com, Liberatore said he had no expectations heading into draft night and was not disappointed with where he went.

“My only competition is the person I was yesterday,” Liberatore said in the interview. “It’s you versus you. I’m not comparing myself to anybody who went before or after me. I’m happy for all of those guys, and I’m looking forward to making every day my best day yet and being the best baseball player I can be.”

But projections during the past few months – which included some top five talk and even consideration as the No. 1 overall pick – left the Rays feeling like they got a steal.

His addition of a slider this season, to a repertoire that includes a mid-90s fastball, plus curveball and changeup, earned Liberatore praise as the most polished high school pitcher in the draft.

“I’m very pleased with the outcome tonight. Matthew Liberatore, we saw him as the top left-handed high school pitcher in the draft. We think he has the physical, mental abilities and character and we think he has a really good chance to develop into a top starting pitching prospect in our organization,” said Rays director of amateur scouting Rob Metzler in an interview with Fox Sports Florida. “This was a surprising outcome. He’s somebody who has a change to pitch in a significant role in the starting rotation and somebody who has the stuff to get the best hitters in the league out. He’s very advanced for a high school arm.”

Later in the interview, Metzler said the organization was optimistic about getting Liberatore in the fold. That is the next step in the family’s decision process.

Liberatore (and Gorman for that matter) committed to the University of Arizona.

But with all but two top 20 picks in the 2017 draft signing for more than $3 million, hanging on to two top 20 picks in the 2018 draft will be difficult for the Wildcats.

The signing bonus value for the Rays’ No. 16 slot is $3,603,500.

Monday’s first round capped a dream week for Liberatore, who was named Gatorade Baseball Player of the Year for Arizona on May 29.

More to come. To read more about Matthew Liberatore, enjoy this feature.

Mountain Ridge’s Matthew Liberatore poses for a photograph before practice on April 11 at Mountain Ridge High School in Glendale. [Jacob Stanek/West Valley Preps]

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