The press box behind home plate at Barnhart Field at Paso Robles High School isn’t exactly spacious.
It’s a cinder block fortress roughly the size of a small bedroom. On a scorching North County afternoon Tuesday, every inch of free space inside was occupied by Major League Baseball scouts representing teams from all over the country. Men wearing gear with various MLB logos had come to Paso Robles to point radar guns and video cameras at Righetti senior Matt Sauer, the most coveted prospect on the Central Coast.
The scouts got their money’s worth. Paso Robles staged a dramatic come-from-behind 4-3 win over Righetti, and Sauer showed off his power on the mound and at the plate.
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Following the game, The Tribune spoke with a scout working for an American League team. He went into detail about what makes Sauer, 18, a potential first- or second-round pick in the upcoming MLB Draft.
“He obviously has arm strength,” said the scout, who requested anonymity. “From a scouting perspective, he’s what you look for if you could build a pitcher. He’s got the frame, he has the lean (body), the looseness, the athleticism.”
Sauer, a right-hander who stands 6-foot-4 and weighs 205 pounds, regularly delivered fastballs in the mid- to low 90s with good movement against Paso Robles. He paired it with a wicked slider in the mid-80s. Twice in the game, Sauer’s fastball hit 95 mph on the radar gun, the scout said. He’s reportedly been clocked at 97 before.
What’s promising is Sauer’s steady improvement over the four times the scout has seen the senior pitcher throw. Last summer, Sauer was clocking around 89 to 92 mph, but at a fall showcase in Lake Elsinore, Sauer had elevated his velocity to between 92 to 94.
“He’s throwing harder than (San Francisco Giants pitcher Johnny) Cueto did last night,” another scout in the scrum said during the game.
Sauer, who is batting .448 this season, also showed some pop from the plate. As the second batter of the game, Sauer sent a pitch over the left-field wall for a two-run home run. But don’t expect Sauer to get drafted for his hitting abilities.
“When he was younger, some guys were on the fence on whether he would be a position player or a pitcher,” the scout said. “But within the last year, he has stepped up his game as a pitcher.”
The scout said he wasn’t worried about how the game played out against Paso Robles. Sauer gave up the game-winning hit to Dylan Lewis in the bottom of the seventh, breaking a 3-3 tie. In 6 1/3 innings of work, Sauer struck out five, gave up five hits, walked four batters and gave up three earned runs. Sauer is 6-1 with a 1.16 ERA in 10 appearances on the season.
“You don’t look at stats too much,” the scout said, though he acknowledged his 16-strikeout performance against St. Joseph last Tuesday was impressive. “I’ve seen him three times this year, and today he struggled a little bit. But he’s a high school guy. He gets caught up in the emotion of the game, and you tend to lose focus. But he does a good job of reining himself back in when he needs to.
“I would rather have a guy that’s overly fired up than a guy that’s not.”
For all the talk about Sauer’s draft stock, there is still no guarantee that he will enter. In November, Sauer signed to play baseball at Arizona, and he could decide to wait before starting his professional career. But signing a professional deal — especially as a high draft pick — could be too good of a chance to pass up.
Sauer was recently rated the No. 42 prospect by MLB Pipeline for the 2017 draft, which begins on June 12, in which 27 of the top 50 prospects are pitchers. If he were selected by the Pittsburgh Pirates with the No. 42 pick in the second round, Sauer would be valued at more than $1.6 million. The money goes up quickly from there the higher the selection.
Sauer, who has been Righetti’s Tuesday starter all season, has one more scheduled start before the regular season ends next week — Tuesday against Mission Prep in Santa Maria. You can bet there will be plenty of scouts and radar guns in attendance.
Matt Sauer Stats
Size: 6-foot-4, 205 pounds
Velocity: 92 to 94 mph fastball
Committed: University of Arizona
Prospect: No. 42 rated prospect by MLB.com