Following one of the most successful careers in Louisiana Tech baseball history, Phil Maton ended his career in sole possession of second place in career strikeouts. Selected by the San Diego Padres in the 20th round of the 2015 first-year player draft as a college senior, Maton would need to generate immediate success on the mound in order to establish himself within the organization.
As he reported to his initial assignment in the Northwest League (Low-A) in the summer of 2015, Maton quickly found his rhythm, striking out an astounding 58 batters in just over 32 innings. Those strikeouts helped support a 1.38 ERA, leading to a selection as a Northwest League All-Star. Known for his “stuff” at Louisiana Tech, Maton’s success came as no surprise, but this level of play in such a short amount of time was jaw-dropping from a 20th round pick who probably wasn’t given much of a shot.
Fast forward to 2016 -- his first full season as a professional. Skyrocketing across the three minor league levels (including skipping Double-A altogether), Maton certainly had the attention of those in the Padres organization. A late season promotion to Triple-A El Paso proved to be one of the most telling signs of the plans that the Padres had for the Bulldog legend. Maton was immediately handed the closer role, and was on the mound when the Chihuahuas clinched the Pacific Coast League Championship last fall. Soaring through the minor leagues at an alarming rate, Maton said his main focus was to, “not try and become a different pitcher as [he] climbed the ladder, [because] almost everyone has the stuff to get to the big leagues -- but to get there you just have to trust your stuff and execute it.” All in all, across three levels of minor league ball in just under a year, Phil struck out 78 hitters in 51+ innings on his way to a 5-3 record with a 1.74 ERA and 11 saves.
Maton, also known by some Padre fans as the “spin doctor,” possesses a spin rate on his fastball that hovers around 2,500 RPMs, ranking him in the top five percent in all of MLB alongside All-Stars Max Scherzer and Justin Verlander. In his first two professional seasons, he compiled nine wins, 17 saves, and 136 strikeouts. When speaking about his elite spin rate, Maton said, “[it is] not necessarily something you work on, more of something you’re gifted with.” The big right-hander is gifted all right. Maton was absolutely dominating hitters in the minor leagues, so surely his time would come in the big leagues, right? Not without a bit of adversity.
To begin the 2017 season, Maton returned to El Paso to fine tune his craft while closing out games; a role that perfectly fits his laser focus and assassin mentality on the mound. While the strikeout numbers continued to be consistent, 14 outings into his season Phil found himself with a 4.80 ERA. However, there was no time to worry about what had happened. Maton remained focused on the goal: winning his next outing. Nine consecutive scoreless outings would follow, and Maton would ultimately receive the call that he had dreamed of for his entire life.
On June 11th, 2017, Phil Maton made his Major League debut for the San Diego Padres against the Kansas City Royals. A scoreless inning of work that included a swinging strikeout of MLB All-Star Lorenzo Cain made for incredible debut. In response to receiving the life changing call, Maton said, “It was a huge rush getting that call in El Paso and having an hour and a half to get [my] stuff ready and on a flight.” To make things even better, Maton received a standing ovation from the San Diego faithful, a moment he says he will never forget.
Now that Phil has compiled nearly two months of big league service time, he has quickly earned the trust of his manager Andy Green. In just his fourth appearance in the majors, Maton recorded his first big league save in a win against the Milwaukee Brewers. Maton described the feeling as “crazy,” adding that the “first pitch was stressful, then after that it’s the same ballgame. Getting it done was awesome.” Soon after, Maton found himself on the mound inside historic Wrigley Field in front of 40,000 plus. As reigning National League MVP Kris Bryant stepped into the box, his mentality remained the same. “Facing Bryant was awesome,” said Maton. “But you just have to settle yourself down, execute the game plan, and get the guy out.” He did just that. Maton quickly sent the MVP back to the dugout on strikes. Perhaps the most rewarding experience, though, was that his dad was there to see it all. “It was awesome to have my dad there to see me pitch professionally for the first time at Wrigley Field in front of 40,000 plus,” said Maton.
As Phil’s career continues to unfold, and as the high-leverage situations continue to increase, Maton will continue to do in the Major Leagues what he did for all those years at J.C. Love Field -- slow the moment down, rely on his signature fastball, and pound the opponent into submission.