The White Sox have been earning well deserved praise for the early returns on their 2016 draft class. Owning two first round picks certainly helps, as they were able to select highly rated catcher Zack Collins and flame-throwing closer Zack Burdi. But that class was anything but top heavy, as they plucked promising players all throughout the draft, and the best example of a late round find might be RHP Matt Foster. Foster was selected in the 20th round out of the University of Alabama and he was a bit surprised to still be available at that point:
"I thought I was going to go at least early teens (of the draft), but I honestly had no idea the White Sox were even looking at me. The scout for the White Sox (Warren Hughes), I was supposed to meet him one day and I wasn't able to and that was the only time we would have actually talked."
Foster signed quickly and split his time between both rookie level affiliates (Great Falls and Arizona), where he put up absurdly dominant numbers. The righty posted a 41:7 K:BB rate while just allowed 2 earned runs and 12 hits over 29.2 innings, good for a 0.61 ERA. Foster pitched well at Alabama, but didn't come close to those type of numbers. I asked Matt Zaleski, Foster's pitching coach at Great Falls, if he had worked his magic on Foster, similarly to what he did with 2nd rounder Alec Hansen.
"We didn't really touch him. His delivery is compact, he throws a ton of strikes, nothing really eye-opening that would you change about him that you think might not work at the higher levels."
After Foster's stellar rookie season, there was anticipation on what he could do for an encore in the 2017 season. Then surprisingly, FutureSox learned in April that Foster had stepped away from the game of baseball. Thankfully, his early retirement was brief and after resolving some personal matters at home, the White Sox reached out to him to expedite getting him back pitching again.
"I was having some things going back on the home front and I was actually getting ready to call Tommy Thompson (Assistant of Player Development) or somebody like that and ask them what direction I need to go to get playing again. But sure enough he ended up being the one to call me first. There is this guy who is the grad assistant for the University of Alabama for baseball this year that knows Aron McRee, his name was Garrett Walker, and he texted McRee, and then McRee told Willie Harris and Willie told Tommy and Tommy ending up calling me."
Foster joined the Kannapolis Intimidators in June of this year and didn't miss a beat, pitching well enough to earn a promotion to Winston-Salem on July 25th. With the Dash, Foster posted a 0.68 ERA while striking out 14 batters over 13.1 innings, while only allowing 3 walks and 8 hits. On August 23rd Foster was on the move again, except this time heading back to the Intimidators to shore up the back-end of their bullpen for the upcoming South Atlantic League playoffs.
"I am pretty excited to come back here (Kannapolis), season is longer, I get to throw more, that all works out good."
No matter how long the Kannapolis playoff run lasts, the White Sox guaranteed Matt more innings by sending him to the Arizona Fall League, an honor usually reserved for players in AA and AAA. But after combining for a 1.30 ERA between Winston-Salem and Kannapolis, Foster seems ready for the challenge. He attributes his success to his competitive fire:
"Just competing I guess, I don't like being outdone by anybody, so I try to not let that happen ever."
Zaleski elaborated on Foster's success:
"He throws a ton of strikes with all his pitches and he comes right at you. He throws his fastball both sides of the plate and down, with good down angle with a little bit of cut to it. He is pretty much one of those types of guys who says, here is my best stuff, good luck hitting it. He has really good stuff, but that's half the battle with pitchers is just challenging hitters, hitting isn't that easy. So just go ahead and challenge them with your best stuff and it usually works out in their favor."
Foster relies on a fastball that ranges from 90-95 MPH and a sharp slider that he throws 82-85. Zaleski also mentions he has flashed a good changeup (83-84), but in a closer role over just a few batters, he doesn't throw it as much.
"He has a slider and a change up too. Slider is more advanced right now. In instructs we went to work on the change-up a little bit. He has thrown a pretty good change-up. He commands three pitches phenomenally, with angle, and attacks."
With that type of arsenal and Foster's competitive nature, its no wonder he has converted 90% (18-of-20) of save situations early in his pro career. The AFL will be a great barometer for how quickly Foster might move through the system, but its obvious that he has mastered the lower rungs of the affiliates. Its a scary proposition for Kannapolis' playoff competition, but one that has the team and Zaleski very excited:
"It's not easy to find back-end of the game guys who you are really confident with. Having him in Great Falls last year and part of this season, you know what you are going to get and he is just real solid for us."
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