Jay Johnson did his best to shop the local market. But the University of Arizona baseball coach never made it to the check-out with a couple of very important in-state recruits he worked so hard to add to his 2019 roster.
Three years into taking over the Wildcat program, Johnson had reeled in the top high school prospects in the state of Arizona for his 2018 recruiting class, Nolan Gorman from Sandra Day O’Connor High School in Phoenix and Matthew Liberatore from Mountain Ridge High in Glendale.
Both had committed in their sophomore years to play for the Wildcats.
Gorman, a hard-hitting third baseman, last week was named the MaxPreps National Player of the Year, and Liberatore, a 6’5″ left-handed pitcher, was this year’s azcentral sports’ Player of the Year and was selected in May as the Gatorade Arizona Baseball Player of the Year.
Johnson knew when he got their commitments two years ago that he had something special, but he couldn’t have predicted their prep careers would skyrocket, putting them out of reach of the college game. But until the youngsters put their signatures on an MLB contract, he could always hope one of them would opt to spend a little time with his program.
Hey, it does happen. Just ask the Diamondbacks. Matt McClain, the D’Backs top pick in the draft, just let the club know he has decided to attend UCLA instead of playing pro ball next season, a decision that will cost the young infielder a cool $2.6 million.
The kind of money that’s put in front of these kids is hard to resist. Gorman just signed with the St. Louis Cardinals organization for $3 million and Liberatore will make slightly more after signing with the Tampa Bay Rays.
Neither one had to wait too long before hearing his name called. Liberatore was picked by Tampa Bay with the 16th overall selection and Gorman was taken just three picks later at No. 19.
Liberatore, who is the first athlete from Mountain Ridge to win the Gatorade award for baseball, had been ranked by at least one recruiting service as the No. 2 prospect in the Class of 2018. He has a big-league fastball that has been clocked at 95 mph, which was a big help in piling up 104 strikeouts in just over 60 innings during his senior season in leading the Mountain Lions to a 21-win record.
He finished with an 8-1 record and posted a 0.93 ERA.
Gorman is a left-handed hitter who closed out his senior season with a .421 batting average. The 6’1″, 210-pound infielder hit 10 home runs and 32 RBIs to help SDO to the 6A state championship – which they earned by beating Liberatore’s Mountain Ridge.
The two top Arizona athletes are now getting ready for the challenges that will come at the next level, with Liberatore scheduled to join the Gulf Coast League Rays and Gorman being shipped off to the Cardinals’ rookie team in the Appalachian League.
Meanwhile, Jay Johnson is left to consider what their impact could have been on his program if they were suiting up for the Wildcats instead.
(Photo: Arizona Athletics)