It’s the Sunday prior to the 2017 MLB amateur draft. There is no game scheduled at Marlins Park, but a crowd forms in the right-field bullpen. Even as the big league team struggles on the road against the Pittsburgh Pirates, Miami’s front office can celebrate a small victory—they finally get to see Matt Givin up close.
The right-hander has flown across a couple time zones to pitch in front of Marlins scouting director Stan Meek and more than a dozen of the club’s talent evaluators. They surround him in a U-formation.
But Givin feels strong and confident on the mound. It’s been three full weeks since he last pitched competitively, a hard-luck loss to Rocky Mountain High School (Fort Collins, CO) in the CHSAA State Baseball Championships postseason tournament: 6.0 IP, 3 R (1 ER), 0 BB, 8 K.
Freed from his hometown’s mile-high altitude, Givin’s fastball velocity tops 90 miles per hour and his slurve breaks sharply. Assembled Marlins personnel dream about what that repertoire will look like when he fills out his 6-foot-3 frame.
Brian Givin made the 1,700-mile trip with his youngest son.
“It was an experience I know I will never forget,” he tells Fish Stripes.
Three days later, Matt receives an early 18th birthday present when the Marlins select him in the 20th round (No. 599 overall). That makes him the first-ever draftee from Rock Canyon High School, located in Highlands Ranch, Colorado.
“That was the first step,” Givin says in a recent interview. “Just to hear my name called.”
Matt Givin was one of the most successful pitchers in the Marlins organization last summer, a remarkable turn of events for someone who only recently began identifying as a pitcher.
Following the lead of his older brother Chris, Givin committed to Xavier University on a baseball scholarship in February 2016. Both were recruited as shortstops, with the expectation that Matt would shift over to third base whenever they shared the field. That was their alignment in 2015 en route to winning a Class 5A state championship together at Rock Canyon.
In May 2016, Matt still had every intention of teaming up with Chris at the next level, as explained to Baseball Factory:
“My biggest concern for the commitment was Chris’ opinion on it,” said Matt. “I didn’t want to take away his college experience by nipping at his heels and always being around him. But when he said he would love for me to come and just wanted me to be happy with my decision, the decision became clear. Xavier was the way to go.”
The World Wood Bat Association World Championship (WWBA) the following October was a turning point, Givin says. A Kansas City Royals scout at the Jupiter showcase who saw him work as both a pitcher and infielder raved about the potential he had on the mound.
That motivated Givin to further develop those skills during his senior campaign. His offense continued to thrive—.532/.638/.919, 4 HR, 25 RBI in 21 G—while his fastball velocity spiked from 84 miles per hour to a max of 94 year to year, according to coach Tyler Munro (via Jim Benton, Colorado Community Media):
“This increased velocity was a combination of increased strength, conditioning and improved mechanics. Matt also showed three-plus pitches with a fastball that he would be able to hold to 89 mph in the seventh inning, plus a slurve and a change-up that he developed halfway through the season. Matt has a good feel for pitching, has the three pitches to be an effective starter and will only be adding velocity as he fills out.”
His improved stuff translated to a 1.48 earned run average and 76 strikeouts over 52 innings. Equally impressive, only three home runs allowed despite facing metal bats and dealing with Colorado’s high-scoring environmental conditions.
Although Givin considered the possibility of being drafted in June, he assumed the Philadelphia Phillies would be the team to step up based on previous interactions. The Marlins didn’t know him as intimately until they hurried to coordinate that last-second bullpen session.
Givin describes the three-week period between his selection and signing as a “tornado” of activity. Going pro has historically been a tricky decision for players in his exact position. It was essentially a coin flip over the previous five drafts.
High School Players Drafted in 20th Round, 2012-2016
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“My mom was very pro-college, a big believer in the value of a education,” he says.
His father Brian also quietly rooted for him to stick with the original plan and attend Xavier. “I’m not going to lie, it would have been pretty cool to watch [Matt and Chris] play college baseball together.”
Ultimately, all the positive feedback from within the industry encouraged him to sign. A far-above-slot-value offer also sweetened the deal ($458,000 bonus, Jim Callis of MLB.com reports).
There’s hardly any media presence in the Gulf Coast League, making it difficult to find any GCL Marlins highlights or even high-quality pictures. Statistically speaking, Givin’s performance was dominant (7 GS, 23.1 IP, 0.39 ERA, 19 K), but what did it look like?
Fish Stripes got lucky. This exclusive footage shows an opponent talking smack to Givin right before a (very quick) plate appearance:
In all seriousness, Givin surprised himself during that first professional experience. He recalls feeling nervous, fully expecting a “beatdown” at the hands of players who were an average of 2.4 years older than him. Instead, he limited them to only three extra-base hits (all doubles).
Givin frequently hears comparisons to current Arizona Diamondbacks ace Zack Greinke. For now, those are more physical than literal.
“I don’t have the plus-plus fastball,” he points out, which was a key to Greinke’s initial success with the Kansas City Royals. Though there’s still a belief that Givin can add a few more ticks to his heater in the coming years.
Givin actually admires the current, craftier version of Greinke. Averaging only 91.0 mph in fastball velocity last season, the 33-year-old performed as one of MLB’s most valuable pitchers (fourth in NL Cy Young award voting).
Making the recent switch to pitching after previously competing as a position player has had its growing pains, despite the stellar results. A partial tear was discovered in the ulnar collateral ligament of Givin’s right elbow. That injury commonly requires Tommy John surgery—and a 12-18 month recovery—to heal.
So far, Givin has responded well to platelet-rich plasma injections. Two weeks into his 2018 throwing program, he is fortunately feeling pain free.
Even if Givin puts that injury scare behind him, the Marlins have never had a teenage pitcher appears for them in the majors. He acknowledges that the ultimate dream is several years away from being realized.
Rather than preoccupying himself with the future, Givin’s intermediate goal is simple: “Just continue to enjoy every moment I have here.”