Baseball - INACTIVE

Texas Rangers draft Duke pitcher Michael Matuella in 3rd round

Duke's hard-throwing ace, Michael Matuella, projected as a possible No. 1 overall pick in the June draft pitches during a recent scrimmage at Jack Combs Field on the Duke University campus Friday, February 6, 2015.
Duke's hard-throwing ace, Michael Matuella, projected as a possible No. 1 overall pick in the June draft pitches during a recent scrimmage at Jack Combs Field on the Duke University campus Friday, February 6, 2015. cliddy@newsobserver.com

After the first two rounds of the MLB draft came and went without Duke pitcher Michael Matuella hearing his name, he didn’t have to wait long on day two.

The onetime contender for the No. 1 overall pick was taken at No. 78 by the Texas Rangers early in the third round. Matuella is the fifth Blue Devil in program history to be selected in the third round or higher.

“It was definitely tough not being picked last night, but I was confident that the right team would still draft me,” Matuella said. “I know that the draft is only a starting point to a long process.”

Matuella is confident the Rangers are the right team and said he is “very optimistic” he will sign a contract and forgo his senior year at Duke.

At 6-foot-6 with a fastball that routinely sits between 93-96 mph and a tough curveball with a 12-to-6 o’clock break, Matuella had the tools and upside to go early in the first round. But injury concerns, specifically with his back, caused him to slide. Tommy John surgery on his right throwing elbow in April likely will keep him sidelined until next April, too.

Matuella is emphatic his back is a non-issue. He was first diagnosed with spondylolysis, a manageable condition that involves a defect in the connection between vertebrae, during his freshman year of high school in 2009. According to Matuella, it was only a problem during the 2014 season and the following summer (a lat strain after his first start of the 2014 season didn’t help matters). To help fix the back issues, Matuella worked on his core strength for an hour and 45 minutes five days a week.

“I worked hard to make the back a non-issue, and it is a non-issue,” he said.

Because of injuries, Matuella was limited to 141 innings in his three years with the Blue Devils, and he never topped 60 innings in a season.

Despite the injuries and the later-than-expected selection, Matuella should get a nice signing bonus. The slotted signing bonus value for pick No. 78 is $777,600, but the Rangers could offer more if they can sign another player to a below-slot value.

“The Rangers have made it clear to me that they want to sign me, so I’m confident we can work something out,” Matuella said.

If Matuella can stay healthy, he could end up being one of the draft’s biggest steals. The Rangers are optimistic that will be the case, as the team had met with him before the season to evaluate him as a potential selection with its first pick (No. 4 overall).

“To get this guy where we got him, I’m ecstatic,” said Kip Fagg, the Rangers’ senior director of amateur scouting. “It’s probably one of the better scouting moments of my 24 years with the Texas Rangers.

“If this guy gets healthy and it all clicks, he has a chance to be a front-of-the-rotation guy.”

Area draft picks

Player

School

Round

Team

P Michael Matuella

Duke

3rd (78th)

Texas

OF Skye Bolt

UNC

4th (128th)

Oakland

P Trent Thornton

UNC

5th (139rd)

Houston

P Benton Moss

UNC

6th (178th)

Tampa Bay

P Sarkis Ohanian

Duke

9th (265th)

Cincinnati

P Reilly Hovis

UNC

9th (266th)

Miami

P Reid Love

ECU

10th (313th)

Baltimore

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