Mountain Ridge’s Liberatore focused on senior season ahead of MLB Draft

Mountain Ridge senior pitcher Matthew Liberatore and the game of baseball have been synonymous since he was a child.  By the time he could walk, the now elite baseball prospect had found a love for America’s Pastime.

“When I was about three years old my dad put me into pretty much about every sport out there,” Liberatore said. “I played soccer, basketball, (and) baseball. He said that baseball was the first sport that I seemed like I knew what I was doing and actually paid attention to what was going on.”

Liberatore started pitching at the kid pitch level at age seven. It was then that his unique talent was discovered.

“My dad noticed that (pitching) looked somewhat natural, that I could aim the ball and throw it where I wanted to and ever since then I just kind of fell in love with the game and the rest is history,” Liberatore said.

Fast forward about 15 years, and Liberatore is ranked as the #3 overall prospect for the 2018 MLB Draft. He’s been compared to pitchers like Los Angeles Dodgers’ ace Clayton Kershaw and sits atop many Draft rankings, but he doesn’t let the noise of the comparisons and the numbers get to his head.

“It’s unreal to be compared to someone of that stature,” Liberatore said. “But I think that if you take everything one day at a time and focus on what you’re doing that day, it’s easy to kind of shut out all the other stuff.

“It’s also easy to let it get to you, but like I said if you make sure you’re taking care of business that day and worrying about the next day and not six months from now, it’s not that hard.”

The Mental Side

The mental side of the game of baseball is what sets Liberatore apart from other pitchers his age. Mentality was something that he developed at a young age with the help of a GameCube game.

“I remember when I was four or five years old, my dad got me a GameCube and got me my first baseball video game,” Liberatore said. “Up until that point I was chasing the lady bugs, and everyone was running for the ball at once. The next season I came back after playing that game, and I understood the concepts and how to move around the field and stuff.”

Liberatore’s baseball knowledge gives him a unique edge.

“He’s very smart,” Mountain Ridge head coach Artie Cox said. “He studies the game, he works with his pitching guy, and he keeps him grounded on how he talks to him about things and the mental side of it. As you get to sit down and be around him all the time, the mental part of it is incredible how advanced he is.”

Jon Huizinga is Liberatore’s personal pitching coach and is in his first year as one of Mountain Ridge’s pitching coaches. Huizinga has been able to experience Liberatore’s development first hand for a few years now.

“When I first met Matthew, he was 11 years old,” Huizinga said. “He was good, but there was something about him that I kind of learned as I had a chance to work with him, that he was very determined. He had a lot of desire, a lot of internal drive.”

That internal drive and hunger to get better is seen in practice and in games.

“He constantly comes in and is always talking about how to get guys out, something that he’s seen, how they stand and things like that, so he studies even when he’s out on the mound on how to get guys out,” Cox said.

Young, but Wise

Being in Liberatore’s presence for even a short period of time, it’s easy to see the 18-year-old is wise beyond his years. His coaches said it doesn’t take much coaching to keep him focused.

“He takes that upon himself, how to just drive himself in the direction he knows, to keep getting stronger and all those kind of things,” Cox said. “He’s pretty self-motivated and creates those avenues for himself on which way he’s going to go on how he develops.”

Liberatore has spent only about two to three weeks at home the past few summers due to traveling to play ball. That time spent away from home has helped him mature as a player and as a young man, he said.

“This (past) summer especially, I went through a lot of it by myself where my parents weren’t there at all, so I definitely had to learn to take care of myself,” Liberatore said. “How do to my own laundry, how to feed myself, all of that kind of stuff.”

Cory Burns has played with the Indians, Padres and Rangers professionally and is a former Mountain Ridge pitcher who has had the chance to work with Liberatore a bit during the past couple of off-seasons. He said Liberatore handles himself as a “professional” would.

“Whoever has taught him to do what he does, I commend them a lot,” Burns said. “You can determine those people that are going to make it and those that aren’t. I think he’s got the work ethic and the mentality, now he just needs the experience to be able to do it.”

Big League Experience

Liberatore has had a taste of what his baseball future could hold. He has played in several showcases and last summer he played on the U-18 Team USA that competed in the U-18 World Cup in Canada and won gold.

“That was easily the best baseball experience I ever had,” Liberatore said. “Just the feeling of being able to go out there and represent your country and bring home a gold medal for the USA was definitely a really cool feeling.”

Liberatore played in the Perfect Game All-American Classic at Petco Park, was MVP of the Under Armour All-America Games at Wrigley Field, and participated in the Area Code Games on top of playing for Team USA last summer.

“It was awesome,” Liberatore said of the experiences. “That’s the best way to put it. I felt like I was floating the whole time, playing at Wrigley Field, the same field that Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig have stepped foot on was really cool and then going over to a park like Petco Park with the more modern side to it was also really cool. Everything about it was unreal.”

Having had the opportunity to pitch in big league parks will be huge for Liberatore when he reaches the major league level, Burns said.

“To be able to go as a high schooler to go and throw in that situation, and be able to perform the way that he did, that shows that he’s got the composure and the mentality to be able to do it,” Burns said.

A Look to the Future

In December, Liberatore signed to play baseball at the University of Arizona. If he chooses to go the route of school, he said he would like to study kinesiology.

Liberatore said he reads up on arm stuff to understand how he’s feeling and talks with Huizinga to understand his body and how to take care of it, which is why kinesiology is intriguing to him.

Even with so much buzz around where he could go in the Draft in June, and the option of going to Tucson in the mix as well, Liberatore said his only focus is on his last season as a Mountain Lion.

“It’s always in the back of my mind, but that’s still a ways away from me,” Liberatore said. “Right now, my focus is helping Mountain Ridge win the first ever State championship in any sport and going out there each week and making the most of my start and helping my team win.”