Because his high school is only about 40 minutes away via the 101 Loop in Arizona, I am going to see an awful lot of LHP Matthew Liberatore this spring. At the second of two fairly disparate starts from the senior, several teams picking in the top ten had a little extra heat in attendance to observe him. Indeed, after Liberatore sat 93-97 in his first start, there’s been some admittedly premature discussion about how high he might go in the draft. But now that we have a few appearances worth of information this spring, it’s reasonable to begin considering where he might go in June. We can do that by ignoring the other prospects in this year’s draft class and instead comparing Libby to other recent prep lefties.
This style of temperature check is useful for a few reasons. At some point, we have to line up every prospect in this year’s draft class, but it’s hard to do that with precision right now because evaluations are constantly shifting and we don’t know everything about things like signability or injuries. By comparing a current prospect — in this case, Liberatore — to his peers in previous draft classes, we’re now only dealing with one moving target and can more easily get an idea of where he’s likely to be selected.
There are several factors besides mere talent that influence where a player is selected in the draft — especially early in a draft — and, of course, the quality of talent in a given class is also relevant. We can’t control for that stuff and probably don’t need to because, again, we’re just trying to get a feel for a realistic range of potential outcomes.
With that in mind, here are the draft-day evaluations of the high-school lefties who have been taken in the first round since 2014. I have them listed in order of preference based on talent at the time they were drafted, with other factors (size, makeup, delivery) noted. The “x” indicates that attribute was essentially value neutral, or at least not so impactful that it affected the player’s stock. These were all future, not current, pitch projections, and if a kid had two breaking balls I just picked the better of the two.
So where does Matthew Liberatore stack among this group? Last week, he was up to 94, sitting mostly 91-92 for most of his start, with a fairly upright delivery that I think negatively impacts extension. His slowest fastball was at 88; it came from the stretch late in his start. Liberatore’s curveball flashed plus several times. It’s fair to question if a 70-72 mph curveball will be effective in the big leagues, but there’s remarkable feel for spin here and it’s likely Liberatore’s breaking ball will have more power to it at maturity. He flashed an above-average changeup, which projects to plus at peak as he utilizes it more in pro ball.
From a strike-throwing and consistency perspective, Liberatore was disappointing. He failed to get on top of many fastballs and breaking balls, forcing a number of pitches to sail up and to his arm side. The quality of his stuff was also inconsistent throughout much of his outing. He’s a good athlete for his size and has some room on his frame for more mass, so it’s possible more velocity is coming. As the spring rolls on, this evaluation is likely to change a little but, but right now here’s where we think Liberatore is at.
^Allard missed time with a stress reaction in his back as a senior
Groome and Allard probably go higher in their respective drafts if not for off-field and injury issues, respectively. I think it’s fair to place Liberatore in the picks No. 3 to 7 range right now, just based on how his talent stacks up with recent precedent. A lot can still happen between now and the draft to change this. If his velocity ticks comfortably into the mid-90s as the draft approaches, we’re talking about something closer to Gore than to Garrett. We can use similar methodology (especially during the summer prior to a draft) across a draft class to loosely tier players, while being mindful of changing industry norms. As the draft approaches, though, it’s necessary to polish up the order within a given tier or move players around because of makeup, medicals, and other considerations.
Eric Longenhagen is from Catasauqua, PA and currently lives in Tempe, AZ. He spent four years working for the Phillies Triple-A affiliate, two with Baseball Info Solutions and two contributing to prospect coverage at ESPN.com. Previous work can also be found at Sports On Earth, CrashburnAlley and Prospect Insider.