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The Road to The Show™: Matthew Liberatore

No. 3 Cardinals prospect working his way up with new team
The 16th overall pick in 2018, Matthew Liberatore was acquired from Tampa Bay in a four-player trade in January. (Julio Cortez/AP)
@brianjstultz
August 17, 2020

Each week, MiLB.com profiles an elite prospect by chronicling the steps he's taken to reach the brink of realizing his Major League dream. Here's a look at St. Louis Cardinals left-hander Matthew Liberatore. For more player journeys on The Road to The Show, click here. Matthew Liberatore might just be

Each week, MiLB.com profiles an elite prospect by chronicling the steps he's taken to reach the brink of realizing his Major League dream. Here's a look at St. Louis Cardinals left-hander Matthew Liberatore. For more player journeys on The Road to The Show, click here.

Matthew Liberatore might just be 20 years old, yet the third-ranked St. Louis Cardinals prospect’s days waiting for his MLB debut might not be much longer. Going into the 2018 First-Year Player Draft, he was ranked fourth, but Liberatore fell to 16th overall and was scooped up by the Tampa Bay Rays. Out of Mountain Ridge High School in Glendale, Arizona, Liberatore signed a $3,497,500 bonus.

2018 (Rookie-level Gulf Coast League, Rookie Advanced Appalachian League)

Liberatore made his first pro start for the GCL Rays on July 6, 2018, giving up an unearned run on one hit, two walks and a hit batsman over 1 1/3 frames. After two more up-and-down outings, the 6-foot-4 southpaw settled in, hurling 21 2/3 frames of shutout baseball over his next five starts, allowing 10 hits while fanning 26. The best outing over that span came on Aug. 27 against the GCL Twins as Liberatore threw five shutout innings, allowing just one hit while striking out seven without walking a batter.

Assigned to Rookie Advanced Princeton on Aug. 23, MLB.com’s No. 62 overall prospect allowed two earned runs on five hits while striking out five over five innings in his final appearance of the 2018 season. He finished with an overall 1.38 ERA in 32 2/3 innings across both levels.

2019 (Class A Midwest League)

After spending time in extended spring training, Liberatore picked up in 2019 where he left off the year before in his first taste of Class A with the Bowling Green Hot Rods. In his first start on May 15, the lefty allowed four hits and one walk with four K’s over five shutout innings. Four appearances later on June 9, Liberatore hurled six scoreless frames to win his third straight start. He topped himself the very next start on June 15 against Lansing, striking out nine while scattering three hits and a walk in a seven-inning complete game.

Liberatore continued to dominate with a career-high 10 strikeouts over seven innings on June 28 against Great Lakes, giving up an unearned run on five hits and a walk while achieving another career high of 101 pitches.

When asked how he had been able to be so good at such an early age, Liberatore was crystal clear.

"I've put in the preparation my whole life," he told MiLB.com after his start on June 9. "My intensity and focus on the field though, that's been a big factor in what I do and how I've been feeling lately."

The young pitcher then hit a rough patch as he yielded 17 earned runs over 21 1/3 innings in five starts in July, the worst one coming on July 11 as Liberatore gave up seven earned runs on 10 hits and a walk against Beloit.

The southpaw went on the injured list on Aug. 9 with an undisclosed ailment, although he reportedly had back tightness. Liberatore returned on Aug. 21, allowing an earned run on one hit and a walk while fanning two in three innings. In his season finale on Aug. 28, he gave up an earned run on three hits and a walk with five strikeouts in four frames.

He finished the season with a 6-2 record, 3.10 ERA and 76 K’s while holding opponents to a .237 batting average in 78 1/3 innings.

Hot Rods pitching coach Brian Reith explained that Liberatore’s stuff begins with his fastball.

"For him, we talk a lot about it, is fastball command," Reith said following Liberatore’s complete-game performance on June 15. "He has a tendency to lose a lot of pitches out of the zone on the fastball. For him to be successful, he really needs to command that fastball. Everything works so well off of that when he does have that fastball command. ... He's improving with that, and I think he needs to continue to improve with that to have success moving forward."

That fastball is complemented by an above-average curveball and a changeup along with a slider that sits in the low-80s.

What was supposed to be an offseason of finding ways to work his way up the Rays’ ladder took a turn when Liberatore headed to the Cardinals in a deal that sent Edgardo Rodriguez to St. Louis for Jose Martinez and Randy Arozarena and included a swap of Draft picks. Now the Cardinals’ third-ranked prospect, Liberatore was one of the three of the club's prospects -- along with Dylan Carlson and Nolan Gorman -- ranked in the MLB.com's Top 100 to get invited to camp in July. He was designated to the club’s alternate training site in Springfield, Missouri, on July 16.

The future is all ahead of Liberatore. Just 20 and with an electric arm, there’s no reason to think his time in the big leagues won’t come soon.

Brian Stultz is a contributor to MiLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @brianjstultz.