Age: 23 (DOB: 12/14/1997)
2019 Stats (Rookie/A): 25 IP, 1.44 ERA, 0.64 WHIP, 11.2 K/9, 2.9 BB/9
National Top 100 Rankings
What's To Like
Well, let's not bury the lede. KSTP's Darren Wolfson recently tweeted a video of Canterino in an offseason throwing session, reporting that the right-hander was touching 99 MPH.
That's an awfully good sign from the 54th overall draft pick in 2019, referred to by Baseball America at the time as "one of the better high-floor options among the college arms." He backed up that assessment with a strong performance in his 25-inning pro debut, and now, it's getting tough not to dream on his ceiling.
In retrospect, it only makes sense the Twins liked the Rice University product enough to use a second-rounder on him. Canterino is very much their type of pitcher: a righty who pairs high heat with good breaking stuff, and – most importantly – upside that they feel they can analytically unlock.
Last June, David Laurila of FanGraphs posted a Q&A with Canterino, in which the righty shared details of his experiences joining the Twins organization, and having his eyes opened to a new world of optimization.
I found these tidbits particularly interesting:
“Up to that point I’d never been familiarized with the type of technology the Twins use, the analytics type of stuff. It was basically to help me get to know myself better as a pitcher. For instance, there are things I do well and we were able to put a number to [them]; we could kind of reinforce those things, and also see if there were things I could get more out of.
In college, I always knew that my fastball played well up in the zone. To see [data] showing that I’m getting a lot of carry on my fastball kind of clicked for me. Also, I’d shifted away from my curveball a little bit in my junior year. I was throwing my slider more, but [the data] put to paper that my curveball paired better with my fastball than my slider did. It’s not as though I’m scrapping my slider — I’m not — but I maybe want to use the curveball more than I did in college."
Helping pitchers tweak their pitch mixes to greater effect is something the Twins have specialized in, and Canterino wasn't exactly a reclamation project to begin with. He starred at Rice, with double-digit K/9 rates in each of his three seasons. The Twins were perhaps lucky get him at No. 54 overall, given he was ranked 34th on BA's board.
If Canterino is actually pumping high-90s that could be a game-changer, given that he was already viewed as a pretty great prospect coming out of college as a low-to-mid-90s guy.
What's Left to Work On
Performance-wise, there's not much to quibble with, and all evidence suggests Canterino is keeping up on the necessary work to grow and improve. One thing to keep an eye on, though, is his delivery mechanics.
You'll notice from watching his highlights that Canterino has a very distinct, herky-jerky leg lift sequence, giving his delivery a bit of a frenetic feel.
When profiling Canterino as a prospect after he was drafted, Eric Longenhagen of FanGraphs noted that the righty carried some "relief risk" due to "some effort and violence to the delivery" (perhaps helping explain why he slid to the Twins). When Laurila interviewed Canterino a few months later, he asked the pitcher about it directly.
“I’m always trying to throw hard, obviously, but I’ve never thought of myself as being out of control," Canterino said. "I am a little herky-jerky, but that kind of just evolved to help give me cues for where I need in each part of my delivery. They’re kind of like checkpoints to keep myself on time between my arm and my body, and feel like I’m in sync. At that point I’m just trying to line everything up and throw hard. So I don’t feel like I’m super high-effort. I understand why it might look like that, but I feel I’m always in control and know where the ball is going. I haven’t had any issues up to this point.”
Hard to argue with him on that last point, and as you watch the highlight clip above, one thing you'll notice is that Canterino's quirky mechanics don't seem to be negatively affecting his command. Certainly not his results thus far.
With that said, it's also tough to argue with Longenhagen's assessment in his more recent Twins prospect rankings: "Canterino sure looks like a reliever. He doesn’t have the usual trim starter’s build, nor the statuesque posture, nor the mechanical ease and grace of a typical starter’s delivery."
None of these characteristics preclude Canterino from sticking as a starter, but they are question marks for him to overcome if he wants to fulfill his highest potential as a rotation-fronter. More importantly, he'll need to get his workload on track; Canterino is now 23 and has yet to throw more than 125 innings in a season.
Canterino will presumably start his season at Cedar Rapids – where he left off in 2019, except back then it was Minnesota's Low-A affiliate. With the minor-league realignment, the Kernels are now High-A, which seems a suitable level for him to reacclimate against pro competition.
Given the quality of his stuff, Canterino will be poised to move quickly, but his progression will greatly depend on the Twins' plans for him. If they want to bring him along as a reliever he could rise in a hurry and theoretically gain consideration for a late-season call-up. If they're committed to seeing him through as a starter, they'll need to focus on building his stamina and endurance, which will mean slowing down the timeline a bit.
One way or another, we'll probably know a lot more about Canterino and his future this time next year.
Twins 2021 Top 20 Prospects
9. Matt Canterino, RHP
8. Coming tomorrow!