Minnesota Twins prospect Matt Canterino had a great first season for the Twins in 2019. Otto Johnson caught up with him ahead of his first full year of pro ball.
Matt Canterino was picked by the Minnesota Twins in the 2019 draft, with the 54th pick in the second round. He’s a pitcher with a strong fastball and two other plus pitches in his four pitch mix. A top 50 draft prospect before the draft due to his performance at Rice University, Canterino has continued his success since reaching the pro level.
Upon reaching the minor leagues, Canterino (over two levels) started 7 games and threw 25 innings, striking out 31, with an ERA of just 2.16. He quickly has risen up the prospect rankings to #14 in the Twins system (per Prospects1500), with a lot of optimism over how he’s developing. As another plus, he has one of the most unusual throwing motions in the Twins’ system.
I got the opportunity to talk to Canterino on the phone and find out a little more about him and joining the Minnesota Twins organization. We went over his journey to where he’s at now, juggling baseball and college, his development in the minors, and his unique throwing motion.
On his time at Rice University:
Otto: You went to Carroll High School in Texas before your decision to head to Rice University. What made you want to head there?
Matt: It was mostly all about Rice. I committed early on in my recruiting process, before I even got the chance to get a lot of offers, so Rice was my first offer, with Tulane offering shortly after that, and I was getting some early looks from Texas A&M and TCU, but by that point I was pretty much set on going to Rice.
Otto: Was it a pretty easy call to stick with Rice?
Matt: Yeah, I received an offer from Rice and I committed about a week and a half later. I was pretty happy with the decision, I had heard a lot about the school, a lot about the program, and I wanted to be a mechanical engineer in college and Rice has one of the best schools in the nation for engineering. Plus it was close enough to home while also being far enough away, so my family could visit to come see my games, my brother especially made a lot of those visits. I really had a blast at the university, It was really the right fit for me.
Otto: As you said, Rice is generally thought of as a pretty prodigious university, and you studied Mechanical Engineering and got extremely good grades, all while standing out as a dominant pitcher, winning the Conference USA pitcher of the year in your last season at the school. How’d you pull it off?
Matt: Honestly, it was just about surrounding myself with the right people, so as most engineering students can attest too, when you are in upper-level classes, you start to get tougher problems, it’s not like one session or one sit down class by yourself, it’s very much a collaborative effort and keeping one thing together at a time. I had a lot of friends both on the baseball field and off, and surrounding myself with people who had similar goals to me and how they wanted to meet them helped me a lot. Obviously there were ups and downs during that time, not every assignment was an A+, and not every start was a shutout, but it was about me finding a way to be consistent in two aspects of my life that I cared a lot about, so I worked hard to make sure I would be able to give them both their due diligence.
Otto: You got better every season that you were at the university as well. Who, or what, do you most attribute that improvement to?
Matt: There were some people who definitely contributed to that, there always are, and I played underneath two coaching staffs while at Rice, under Wayne Graham, than Matt Bragga for my last year, so I was able to make a lot of adjustments. I love being able to pick people’s brains and seeing what makes other people good, then trying to apply it to see if it’ll work for me and make me a little better. I tried to get something from each of them, and the variety really helped me get better. I listened to a lot of people and the culmination really helped me get better.
Otto: In addition to school and baseball, was there anything else you enjoyed doing? Any fun activities on the side?
Matt: I don’t think I’d be with my girlfriend if I didn’t find time outside of that. I got to be pretty efficient with my time, so I got to be outside of those two things (Engineering and baseball) so I didn’t get burned out. I did a lot of hanging out with my friends and family so that those things didn’t take up 100% of my time.
On joining the Minnesota Twins organization:
Otto: You grew up near Southlake, Texas. Who were you rooting for the most when you were growing up?
Matt: I’m actually from Orlando, Florida, my parents met there, but my dad grew up in New York, so I always was a Yankee fan growing up. The New York Rangers, the New York Knicks, the New York Jets, and right up until the draft, the New York Yankees. I had to break off my allegiance to them now that I’m with the Twins.
Otto: Now that you are out of school, how do you like to spend your free time? What do you do in the offseason that isn’t baseball related?
Matt: I love hanging out with my friends, so whatever they want to do I’m down for pretty much anything they want to do. I’ve gone to the beach a couple of times since I was down in Fort Myers, and I’ve actually started taking up bowling. I’ve been working on spinning the ball better and doing a little of that, and really just hanging out with my family and girlfriend.
Otto: What’s it like being a prospect for the Minnesota Twins? How did you feel when you were drafted and brought into the organization? Were there any surprises during the process?
Matt: The Twins weren’t on my radar a lot at first, but I couldn’t be happier with how they’ve helped me develop and get me into the organization. They’ve given me all kinds of opportunities and have just been so helpful. I just want to keep getting better and they do a really good job at helping me with that.
Otto: Let’s talk about your 2019 season: It was your first year in pro ball, but you were excellent at both stops. 7 Starts, a 1.44 ERA, and a 31-6 K-BB ratio. Those are excellent numbers for anyone, let alone someone fresh out of college. How do you think it went, both in terms of baseball and getting settled into a new setup?
Matt: I think that the Twins helped me out a lot with the acclimation, after the draft they set me up in a bit of a developmental stage in Fort Myers throwing bullpen sessions and trying to get to know myself as a pitcher. They did this because I had a pretty large workload in college (Rice is known for using their top pitchers a lot) and they wanted to limit that and work on things a bit. There were some bumps along the way, but they really tried to get me going after batters and I thought it make a big difference, so I was really happy with how it all went.
On Pitching and his motion:
Otto: Prior to the 2019 draft, you were being viewed as a top 50 draft prospect. You have some really good stuff: Excellent control, a mid-90s fastball, a nasty slider, a strong curve and a solid slider. Which of the pitches do you think is your best option and the most fun to throw?
Matt: I think that the way I am as a pitcher, I really like to work off of my fastball. People say that I have a good secondary stuff, but I think a lot of that has to do with how I work off of my fastball, my secondary stuff looks good because of how I throw my fastball. I would always call my fastball my best pitch even though it doesn’t have electric velocity that you see today, but I just have all the confidence in the world in that pitch. As for the most fun, I’m kind of a variety is the spice of life type of person so I like being able to throw all my pitches in different situations. I like being able to throw a 3-2 slider, or a 2-1 curve, I like being able to go against what the hitter is thinking, it’s kind of what makes pitching fun.
Otto: As we talked about, you had a really strong season this past year, but there’s always room for improvement. What ways do you think you can improve your game in 2020?
Matt: I’ve been working a lot on improving my curveball and change-up, so hopefully I’ll get to see some of the results as spring training and the season get going. Other than that though, I just want to keep meeting new people and learn as much as I can to try to figure out how to make the next step to become a better pitcher.
Otto: You’ve played pitcher primarily for a while. Do you miss being a hitter and getting the opportunity to get at-bats or are you glad to be done with that?
Matt: The thing I miss the most was actually being a catcher. The hitting, I’m definitely fine without. I don’t miss it at all.
Otto: It’s been brought up multiple times by prospect sites and analysts: you have one of the most unusual throwing motions in the Minnesota Twins system. How did you develop the motion and why do you think it helps you be so successful?
Matt: I developed the motion in high school, I went to a pitching camp, and one of the head coaches there suggested that my front side was getting in front of my legs during a bullpen session. My pitches were going up and away and so he gave me a drill to keep my upper half and lower half in-sync: I had to raise and lower my leg and hand at the same time, which helped me be more aware of where my body was at, and I just transitioned it to the mound so I was better able to keep my delivery. It’s been with me since high school and it just helps me out mentally and the goofiness distracts hitters as well, so I’ll take it.
Otto: Is there any specific at-bat or game that you remember from your career that kind of sticks with you and stands out?
Matt: I never really had fun pitching until I got older, but one memory that stands out is from when I was in Little League. It was the championship game, and I threw a complete game and my team won. It was awesome to be able to touch the ball every pitch, to impact the game so much from one side of the ball and it’s always kept me passionate from a young age on.