Matt Canterino stepped into Rice’s starting rotation as a freshman in 2017 and instantly had success. The right-handed hurler showed growth throughout his sophomore season and during the summer in the Cape Cod League last year.
He currently is in the midst of a stellar junior season. It’s a critical year for Canterino, as he’s a well-regarded prospect for June’s MLB draft. Professional scouts consider the 6-foot-3, 222-pound hurler as an early-round selection with the potential to go in the first round of the draft.
“For me, it’s about making sure I continue to progress,” said Canterino on the draft attention. “If I do these things that I need to progress, all these team goals and personal goals will start to fall into place. I know that if I attack hitters and give my team a chance to consistently win, I will be one of the best pitchers in America.”
Canterino has a four-pitch mix, featuring a fastball, curveball, slider and changeup. His best offering is his low-to-mid-90s fastball. He attacks the strike zone with his fastball and uses it to set up his secondary pitches.
His big-breaking curveball is his outpitch and best secondary offering.
Known as a fierce competitor, Canterino has an unorthodox delivery. His windup features a slight hitch, which he calls a timing mechanism. He developed the idea when he was in high school and at a one-day pitching camp with Skip Johnson, the then-Texas pitching coach and current Oklahoma head coach.
Johnson was having the camp participants do a drill where they’d move their arms and legs at the same time to teach the pitchers how to stay in sync, Canterino recalls. He amplified the drill more than Johnson intended and kept it in his delivery, as the hitch helped with his timing and allowed him to throw a higher percentage of strikes, he said.
Some scouts wonder if Canterino’s delivery will force him to become a reliever in the professional ranks. He’s continued to improve his command to the point where he has a strong chance at remaining as a starter, though.
“I think I am pretty fortunate to where I think I can throw those four pitches in nearly any situation it calls for,” Canterino said.
Canterino changed his slider grip in the Cape Cod League last summer. He observed other pitchers’ sliders and realized he could refine his. He started asking different pitchers what worked for them and started tinkering with different grips.
After working on it, Canterino adopted a grip that allowed him to throw a tight breaking slider that sits in the high-80s and slightly resembles his fastball.
“I’d like to not only use the slider as a pitch to get ahead of hitters but as a distinct outpitch,” Canterino said. “I feel this slider can be a better pitch than the one in the past.”
Canterino has thrived in his time at Rice. As a freshman in 2017, he posted a 4.12 ERA with 111 strikeouts and 49 walks in 96 innings. He showed drastic improvement in his command last year, posting a 3.06 ERA with 116 strikeouts and 22 walks in 94 innings.
Canterino has limited opposing batters as a junior this season. He’s recorded a 1.50 ERA with 30 strikeouts and four walks in 24 innings (four starts). He’s tallied three scoreless appearances with his only underwhelming start coming against UC-Irvine when he allowed six runs (four earned) on Feb. 22.
He credits his success this season to his maturity and competitiveness on the mound. He also hopes to show growth with his slider and command over the remainder of the season.
“I wear my heart on my sleeve,” Canterino said. “Some people see that as something that can kind of be a cause for concern, especially if it gets out of hand. But for me, it drives me. It just shows baseball is a passion of mine. It shows I care a lot about each pitch and making adjustments each pitch.”
Dan Zielinski III has covered the MLB draft for four years. He’s interviewed 133 of the top draft prospects in that period, including three No. 1 overall picks. Multiple publications, including Baseball America, USA Today and The Arizona Republic, have quoted his work, while he’s appeared on radio stations as a “MLB draft expert.” Follow him on Twitter @DanZielinski3.