When lefty pitcher Matt Imhof was drafted by the Phillies with the 47th overall pick this year, it came as a surprise to the young hurler. The transition to the professional ranks isn’t something that has surprised the 20-year-old though, as he feels he knew exactly what to expect.
The Cal Poly product took time after the draft to wrap up his final exams, then headed straight to Philadelphia to sign with the Phils, who weren’t really on his personal radar as a team that might select him in the draft until minutes before the pick was announced.
“We were watching from the first pick and I got a call from my advisor at, like, pick 45 and he said, ‘The Phillies are going to pick you at 47.’ I got that call and let my family know and pick 47 came up and my name flashed across the screen and everyone stood up and screamed and my dad knocked a chair over,” an excited Imhof explained.
“There was a level of surprise. I didn’t really know who was going to take me, but I hadn’t really talked to the Phillies especially leading up to the draft. I had talked to them early, kind of in the fall. They kind of left me alone. Not that they didn’t want me or anything, I just didn’t know. And it just happened to be that and they said they were hot on me from the beginning. It was just one of those things where they were playing their cards close and it worked out,” Imhof added.
The six-foot-five 220-pounder posted a 10-4 record with a 2.45 ERA and an 11.24 K/9 mark in 15 starts this year in his junior season for the Mustangs. He wrapped up his college career sporting an 18-7 record with a 2.68 ERA in 48 games.
Imhof feels strongly that his time at Cal Poly prepared him for what was ahead.
“College was huge for me- the best three years of my life,” Imhof said this week after joining the Class A Lakewood BlueClaws. “The coaches there kind of developed me into the player that I am today. And, you know, playing at that level of competition, playing in regionals, playing against Cal State Fullerton and some of these really good teams really helps you prepared for the good talent that you’re going to face in professional baseball.”
Praised throughout his scholastic days as being a hurler with excellent command of the strike zone, Imhof expects to have some hiccups along his path to the big leagues, as he anticipates that, like all minor leaguers, he’ll have plenty to learn and adjustments to make, no matter what kind of success he enjoyed through his collegiate career.
“They were messing with the grip on my breaking pitch,” an eager-to-learn Imhof stated, describing some of the small tweaks he’s been working on with the help of his professional coaches. “Just small things right now. Holding it tighter, changing the finger position, stuff like that.”
Imhof, who throws a fastball that tops out at 94 MPH, a slider-curve hybrid and a developing change up, is poised to progress at a steady pace through the developmental ranks. He has already pitched at three levels of the Phillies’ system since his pro debut in the rookie level Gulf Coast League less than a month ago.
Through five starts in the minors, the California native sports a 1-0 record with a 1.50 ERA while striking out 16 and walking six in 18 innings. The win was a rain shortened complete game shutout with the short-season Class A Williamsport Crosscutters on July 13th that earned him New York-Penn League Pitcher of the Week honors.
The changeover from college ball to the pros was definitely something that Imhof was prepared for mentally.
“It was about what I expected,” said Imhof. “I knew- I mean, all these guys here are the best college hitters. They get drafted, then they come here and they’re the six or seven-hole hitters. So, I knew it was going to be a level up in competition, but I just try to do what I do and that’s establish my fastball.
The rate of progression is very likely on pause for now, according to Lakewood pitching coach Les Lancaster, who expects Imhof to remain with the BlueClaws through the remainder of the season, after allowing three runs, two earned, on five hits in three innings of work in his full-season level debut last Saturday.
“I think he’s gonna help us out,” Lancaster stated. “He just had a rough outing the other day. But I liked what I saw. I think he’s going to compete and keep us in games and give us a chance.”
Lancaster also added that, despite his workload through 15 starts in his college season, Imhof was not being held to a specific pitch count or innings limit at this stage.
The rough initial appearance with Lakewood was not discouraging for the youngster as he is a smart pitcher who recognizes his own mistakes and realizes what improvements need to be made.
Having already experienced a small dip in velocity during what will turn into the longest baseball season of his playing career, potential for fatigue is not of great concern to Imhof, who feels comfortable and confident as he tries to impress while kicking off his promising career.
“I expect to finish strong. My body feels good, my arm feels good. There’s not really anything lagging as far as that. The biggest transition was for me was to go from pitching every seven days to pitching every five now, but we’re on a six-man rotation with off days, so I don’t think it’s going to be that big of a deal for me.”