Lefty just looked right

Matusz picked No. 4 as O's opt for a pitcher

Draft

June 06, 2008|By Roch Kubatko | Roch Kubatko,Sun reporter

Joe Jordan, the Orioles' director of scouting, went to bed Wednesday night knowing which three players would be gone before his turn came up in yesterday's amateur draft. He was on the clock as soon as his head hit the pillow.

The decision was made around 10 a.m., four hours before the draft began. Though intrigued by their other candidate, University of South Carolina first baseman Justin Smoak, the Orioles couldn't pass on University of San Diego left-hander Brian Matusz with the fourth overall pick.

Matusz was 12-2 with a 1.71 ERA and three shutouts in 15 games as a junior this season. He walked 22 and struck out 141 in 105 innings.

"We've seen Brian since he was in high school and followed him. A lot of history," Jordan said. "This was a tough pick, not because I didn't like him, but because we had others we liked a lot as well. But Brian Matusz was a good selection for us."

He also was the first pitcher chosen in the first round since Jordan became director of scouting four years ago.

"He's going to be one of our better pitching prospects when he signs," Jordan said. "We have what we feel is a lot of good prospects and he'll fall into that group somewhere. I expect him to be one of the top prospects that we have once we get him signed, acclimated and once we get him into the organization."

Negotiations with last year's top pick, Georgia Tech catcher Matt Wieters, dragged to within a few minutes of the deadline before the two sides reached agreement. Jordan sounded confident yesterday that securing Matusz, 21, will be much easier.

"I think that it will be a different schedule," Jordan said.

A three-year starter at San Diego, Matusz was 26-8 with a 2.94 ERA and 397 strikeouts in 48 games. He didn't sign with the Los Angeles Angels in 2005 after being chosen in the fourth round.

"I know the Baltimore Orioles have a terrific organization and it's just a really exciting time in my life right now," he said. "I was really unsure where I was going to go. It was definitely hard for me to sleep last night. But I felt really good when the first three picks went by and I saw the Baltimore Orioles up there. Deep down inside, I really thought I had an opportunity to become an Oriole. I knew they had done a great job all year of scouting me."

The draft was loaded with quality position players, including the top three picks - high school shortstop Tim Beckham, Vanderbilt third baseman Pedro Alvarez and high school first baseman Eric Hosmer. But Jordan couldn't resist taking a left-hander widely regarded as the best pitcher in the draft.

"It should tell you how much I liked him," Jordan said. "I just went round-and-round in the last 24 hours. It was back and forth; I had a lot of conversations with the staff. At the end of the day, this thing fits the blueprint of the organization going forward, from the character side, talent side, however you want to look at it."

Matusz, listed at 6 foot 4 and 200 pounds, is a finalist for the Golden Spikes Award, given to nation's top collegiate player, and has been named the West Coast Conference's Player of the Year. He can throw strikes with all four of his pitches, including a 90-93 mph fastball and plus-changeup and curveball. He also uses a slider.

"He holds velocity, but I think the command of it, mixing it with the changeup, mixing the curve in, the slider, the fastball plays above the velocity," Jordan said. "There are a lot of guys that throw 97 and the other stuff isn't very good and hitters can just gear up for it. His will play above the velocity at times.

"He's an accomplished guy. He's always been a performer. There's really not a lot of downside. The thing that he's done at school that he's needed to do was become more physical. He was a very lean kid coming out of high school. He's just grown and progressed in every way you needed him to do.

"This guy really knows what he's doing. There's going to be a lot of days, as with every pitcher, where you go to the mound and you don't have your best stuff. You have to figure out a way to win. This is a guy that I think has that intangible."

Jordan said he isn't sure where Matusz will begin his professional career.

"I'd like to get out there and start playing as soon as possible," Matusz said. "My No. 1 goal since I started playing baseball is to play in the major leagues, and I've just been taking it step by step."

In the second round, the Orioles selected Xavier Avery of Cedar Grove (Ga.) High, a left-handed-hitting center fielder who signed a letter of intent to attend the University of Georgia, where he would be a running back on the football team. In the third round, they took pitcher/outfielder Jerome Hoes of St. John's (D.C.) High, who had a verbal commitment to the University of North Carolina.

Note -- The Orioles honored former Negro leagues pitcher Bert Simmons, 84, by making him a ceremonial first pick in the draft.roch.kubatko@baltsun.com

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