Many kids at a young age dream of the possibility to one day step onto freshly cut grass of a state-of-the-art baseball park. To most, this is only just a dream. However, there are those fortunate to take the field and show potential to be an elite baseball player.
For Matt Tenuta, a 2012 graduate of Apex High School, his competitive edge and niche as a left-handed pitcher gained him an advantage to be the small percentage drafted to the MLB out of high school.
“At a young age, my parents realized I threw with my left hand, and my dad grew up loving baseball so much he knew that was big in professional baseball to have left hand pitching,” Tenuta said. “Since I was about five my dream was always to be a professional baseball player.”
That dream came true as the Kansas City Royals drafted Tenuta in the 25th round, 763rd overall in 2012. Two years after he was drafted the Royals lost to the San Francisco Giants in the World Series but returned the following year to take the throne and did just that becoming the 2015 World Series Champions.
“I’m so proud to be apart of the Royals organization,” he said. “There’s so many amazing people in the front office that it’s great to know they believe in me because they’ve put together such an amazing major league team.”
His first two years consisted of playing for the Arizona Royals of the Arizona Rookie League, the Idaho Falls Chukars of the Pioneer Rookie League, and the Burlington Royals of the Appalachian Rookie League. In 2014 he made his way to Single-A baseball playing for the Lexington Legends and finished his 2015 season there.
With any luck, Tenuta, hopes to make his major league debut by the time he’s 24. He suffered a broken leg as a result from a line drive this season ending the possibility to jump from Single-A baseball to high Single-A or Double-A.
“My first two years I was in rookie ball and then this year I started in A-ball and got hurt in my first four starts,” he said. “So I should have been moving out of a ball midseason.”
Despite this past season’s struggles with injury, Tenuta is farther along than he would have been if he had played in college and been drafted this year. According to Baseball-Reference, at 21 he is exactly 1.0 year younger than the average age at Single-A level. Many drafted out of college this year would head straight for rookie ball and he already has two years of Rookie and Single-A baseball under his belt.
“For me I was lucky enough to get out of rookie ball in two years because being a high school grad you don’t always get out of there that fast,” he said.
For Tenuta to develop so quickly, it didn’t come as much of a surprise for his high school baseball coach Mike Valder.
“I remember watching him make his own adjustments once in the bullpen and I thought that was very mature and advanced for a young pitcher,” he said. “It is not often that kids in high school know their own stuff and mechanics to recognize what adjustments they need to make.”
Even with his quick strides to development, Tenuta remains a student of the game to continue perfecting his game en route to becoming a complete pitcher. What makes his pitching game so dynamic, at such an early age, is his ability to throw strikes not just when he can, but when he sees fit.
“I take a lot of pride in being able throw my curveball, my slider, and changeup all for strikes,” he said.
Being a complete pitcher includes knowing the hitters, going into make a start knowing the team they’re facing, knowing batting averages and what the guys like to hit.
“The day before my start, me and my pitching coach, who is Carlos Reyes, will be talking about the guys ill be facing the next day, different things the guys like to hit that I need to stay away from in different situations,” he said “For me that’s something I’ve been working really hard on. Understanding the pitches I need to throw in big situations and not make mistakes.”
Along with names like Carlos Reyes, in his first year Tenuta was privileged to have Mark Davis, a former Cy Young winner, as his pitching coach. Davis is also a left handed pitcher and has a similar stature and pitching style.
“He’s been a really big influence on my first three, four years of baseball,” he said.
His decision to go pro was rather easy. The MLB announced that his draft class would be the first to have the opportunity to go to college with MLB’s financial support for all four years if things don’t work out due to injury or something else that stops their career.
“Once that was put on the table I think that was the deciding factor for my family,” he said.
Another advantage to going straight to the pros – besides the $100,000 signing bonus – was the development curve.
“There’s a bit of a different curve on how you play college compared to how you play in the minors,” he said. “A lot of people say you go to college for three years and once you get to the minor leagues its a complete change of pace from the game. For me I wanted to get started now and come out of high school and play the way they want me to play in professional baseball right away.”
As far as getting drafted goes, Valder seemed to have expected nothing less.
“I wasn’t shocked because I was always communicating to the Major League Scouting Bureau on what days Matt was going to throw,” he said. “I was super excited for him because he and I had had several conversations about being drafted. He had explained to me that it was his dream.”
For Valder, he had nothing but an added level of support for Tenuta to follow his dream.
“I supported Matt’s decision all along,” he said. “I understood that he wanted to take a shot at one day being a big leaguer. Matt did not want to waste his arm playing in college.”
“It was a true joy to coach Matt. He wanted to win and it was extremely fun to watch him his senior year. At the same time, it was difficult at times because I wanted to give him every chance to have a future. I did not want to burn him out or over work him.”
Tenuta’s jersey is now honored in left field of Apex High School’s baseball field.
“That was a really special night I’ll never forget,” he said. “Apex was great for me, I think I really found myself once I moved from Indiana to North Carolina. The two years I spent at Apex, the people I met, the people I got to play baseball with and I really matured and became the person I really wanted to be.”