After months of adversity and speculation, Michael Matuella may finally have some certainty about his future Monday night.
The Duke right-hander is expected to be one of the 75 names called Monday during the first night of the 2015 MLB draft. The Arizona Diamondbacks hold the first overall selection and go on the clock at 7 p.m. Monday’s action will feature the first two rounds as well as compensation and competitive balance picks, with the remaining 38 rounds spread out across Tuesday and Wednesday.
A potential top-five pick before the season began, Matuella tossed 25 innings in his junior season—going 1-1 with a 1.08 ERA—before being shelved due to arm injuries. The Great Falls, Va., native underwent Tommy John surgery April 14 and although his draft stock tumbled as a result of the injury, the junior is still considered a high-upside pick who will come off the board late in the first round.
If Matuella is selected before the 22nd overall pick, he will become the highest drafted Blue Devil ever—eclipsing Toronto Blue Jay Marcus Stroman, who was chosen 22nd in the 2012 draft.
Nearly two months into his extensive rehab process, Matuella admitted the draft has been on his mind a lot in recent weeks—especially since he could not be out on the field with his teammates.
“It’s kind of impossible not to think about [the draft]. It’d be a different story if I was still playing and wasn’t injured, then I’d be able to focus on the next game at hand,” Matuella said Friday on a conference call with reporters. “It’s something I’ve been looking forward to and something I’ve worked really hard for. I’m just hoping that I get a good opportunity.”
The 6-foot-6 junior said he has been in contact with several teams leading up to the draft, mostly concerning his elbow and a back injury that cost him a chunk of last year. Matuella said he began rehab the day after his surgery in April, putting him on a recovery track that will have him throwing a baseball for the first time in August and returning to game action sometime next spring.
Although he emphasized that his rehab is going well, Matuella cautioned against returning to the mound too quickly, noting that he will “get back as soon as I can—safely.”
If selected, Matuella has until July 17 to agree to terms on a contract with his new professional team. He reserves the right to decline any contract offered to him, and stated returning to Duke for his senior year is an option he will consider.
Matuella will watch the draft at home with his parents and brother as he awaits his fate, hoping to find a good opportunity once he is able to return to the mound.
“The draft is something I can’t really control,” he said. “I’m just hoping a team evaluates me on my future. I know that when it’s all said and done, I’m going to come back a much better pitcher and in the best shape of my life and I’m just looking forward to that point.”
Matuella is the lone Blue Devil likely to get drafted Monday, but many of his teammates have hopes of joining a professional team Tuesday or Wednesday. Last year, three graduated Duke players—Drew Van Orden, Jordan Betts and Robert Hubert—were selected, a number that could easily be surpassed this week.
Relief pitcher Sarkis Ohanian capped off an excellent four-year career with the Blue Devils with a 1.97 ERA and 62 strikeouts in 45 2/3 innings in 2015 and could project as a solid middle reliever at the major league level. Senior captain Andy Perez was Duke’s most consistent offensive player this year and led the ACC with 35 stolen bases, and fellow co-captain Mike Rosenfeld contributed great leadership behind the plate to go with his team-leading .411 on-base percentage. Both provide strong intangibles and are likely to be drafted in the later rounds.
Like Matuella, Kenny Koplove has some flexibility if he hears his named called during the draft. As a junior, the Philadelphia native emerged as one of the top closers in the ACC with 11 saves while hitting .275 with strong defense at shortstop. Koplove could be drafted in the middle rounds, but retains the option of returning to Durham to play in his final season of collegiate eligibility.
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