Matthew Liberatore and Nolan Gorman have been best friends since they played on the same tee ball team when they were 5 years old. They have been teammates on club and travel teams for almost every year since then. Last summer, they helped lead Team USA to the gold medal in the 18U World Baseball Cup in Ontario, Canada. For each player, that was the highlight of their baseball careers…until Monday.
The boyhood dreams of Liberatore and Gorman came true Monday night when they were selected in the first round of the Major League Baseball Draft. Liberatore was drafted with the 16th overall pick by the Tampa Bay Rays and Gorman was selected 19th overall by the St. Louis Cardinals.
“Honestly I was pretty calm up until the draft started, and then obviously I was a little anxious waiting to hear my name called. But once it was called I didn’t think I was going to cry. I started hugging my dad and then I started crying quite a bit. And then I hugged my mom. It was definitely an emotional moment. Something that was really special for all of us.” Liberatore said via the Tampa Bay Rays.
“The draft is pretty crazy so you never know what’s going to happen. I think going forward it’s going to be a fun ride.” Gorman said through the St. Louis Cardinals.
Liberatore and Gorman, who live five minutes apart, attended different high schools. Liberatore (6’5″ 200 lbs) played for Mountain Ridge High School and was recently named the Gatorade Arizona Player of the Year. The left handed pitcher had an 8-1 record, 0.93 earned run average, and 104 strikeouts and in 60.1 innings pitched his senior season. The cerebral lefty has great command of four pitches, with a fastball that can touch the mid 90’s, and he recorded 17 strikeouts in a game this past season.
“We’re very pleased with the outcome. Matthew Liberatore we saw him as the top left handed high school pitcher in the draft. This is a great outcome for the organization. I think he has the physical, mental ability, the character, that we think has the chance to develop into a really top end starting pitching prospect in our organization.” Rays Director of Amateur Scouting Rob Metzler said.
The 6’1″ 210 pound Gorman, had a .421 batting average, with 10 home runs and 32 rbi’s his senior season. The third baseman led Sandra Day O’Connor High School to its first state championship last month, where they beat Mountain Ridge in the title game. Last summer Gorman, a left handed power hitter, won two national high school home run derbies, including one at the MLB All Star game in Miami in front of 50,000 fans.
“We were thrilled with the way the board worked out, and you can’t believe a guy left handed like that, as young as he is, and someone who has done it on the biggest stages, and has done it with power, was available to us. We were thrilled with that pick. It doesn’t take someone who is too smart to see that he can hit the ball really, really hard.” Cardinals Director of Scouting Randy Flores said.
“St. Louis is getting a steal. A guy with his kind of power and elite knowledge of his strike zone at number 19 is very rare. He is coachable and ready to be the best player he can possibly be which will mesh well with the culture of the Cardinals. He also comes from a great family and is a grounded kid. A special person.” Sandra Day O’Connor head coach Jeff Baumgartner said.
The pair also made Arizona history on Monday. The state never had two high school players selected in the first round of the same draft until Liberatore and Gorman.
“The first round is super special no matter where it is, and to see him (Matthew) go off the board, and then me, I think it’s really cool. We’re both pretty excited. I texted him right away, and I’m pretty sure I was the first one he responded to, at least that’s what he said. And then he returned the favor and said congrats.” Gorman said.
Gorman, who turned 18 years old on May 10th, is the first player born in the 2000’s to be drafted in Major League Baseball. Each player watched the draft at their respective homes with family and friends. MLB Network had a television crew at the Liberatore house as part of their draft coverage.
“I’m super excited to be a Ray and get started with the organization, and kind of go on with that dream. I’m pretty motivated to go and get my work done, and do what I’m supposed to do. It feels like all of the hard work is paying off, and at the end of the day this is just the first step.” Liberatore said.
Both players signed with the University of Arizona, but it looks like they will both be skipping college and turning professional. The slot value for the 16th overall pick, when Liberatore was selected, is $3,603,500. For Gorman, the 19th overall pick slot value is $3,231,700.
“Only fitting those two would stick together and have such similar paths. Now it is time for both of them to go to work again, to accomplish their dreams. Two great families that I am super happy for. What an accomplishment.” Baumgartner said.
There were other local high school products taken early in the draft. Outfielder Brennen Davis (6’4″ 195 lbs) of Basha High School, was drafted in the second round with the 62nd overall pick by the Chicago Cubs. This past season, Davis had a .444 batting average, with 3 hr’s and 20 rbi’s. He had previously committed to the University of Miami.
Raymond Kellis shortstop Jonathan Ornelas (6’1″ 165 lbs) was selected in the 3rd round (91st overall) by the Texas Rangers. Ornelas had a .464 batting average, 6 home runs, and 31 runs batted in this past season.
Shortstop Jayce Easley (5’11” 155 lbs), Gorman’s teammate at O’Connor, was chosen by the Texas Rangers in the 5th round (149th overall). This past season Jayce hit .400 and stole 41 bases in 42 attempts. Easley’s father Damion, is a former major league player and current assistant coach at O’Connor.
Queen Creek centerfielder Kevon Jackson was drafted by the Kansas City Royals in the 9th round (272nd overall). Jackson had a .364 batting average this past season.
Also, GCU right-handed pitcher Jake Wong, who played his high school ball at Hamilton, was drafted in the third round with the 80th overall pick by the San Francisco Giants. “This is a day that you work for your whole life. The Giants are a winning organization with a great baseball culture. Getting the opportunity to possibly play for the San Francisco Giants, and be part of their organization is really a blessing. I couldn’t be any more happy.” Wong said via GCU.
The junior was Arizona’s first collegiate player picked in this year’s draft, and is GCU’s highest selection since Tim Salmon went 69th overall in 1989 by the Angels. Wong (6’2″ 210 lbs) earned All WAC second team honors this past season after posting a 9-3 record, 2.81 ERA, and 89 strikeouts in 89.2 innings pitched. “I want to thank the university and the baseball program for giving me this opportunity. I was a kid with one scholarship offer coming out of high school and GCU was my only offer. I couldn’t be any more thankful. I’m just so blessed to have so much support along the way and I want to thank the GCU coaches for believing in me.” Wong said.
Wong’s GCU teammate Mick Vorhoff (6’1″ 205 lbs) was taken in the 9th round (277th overall) by the New York Yankees. The right handed pitcher was named to the All WAC second team this past season, and finished his career with 93 appearances, the most in GCU history.
This draft marked the first time since 1988 that GCU had two players taken in the first 10 rounds.