JAMESTOWN, NY — A strong 2011 senior season at BYU landed right-hander Matt Neil on the radars of major league scouts, and ultimately a spot on the Jamestown Jammers as a rookie professional.
Neil turned a 6-4 season with a 2.42 ERA and an impeccable walks to strikeouts ratio of 10 walks to 73 strikeouts in 86 innings into a 29th round draft pick by the Florida Marlins in last month’s MLB Entry Draft.
Getting back into the rhythm of pitching was the first task toward working his way to the pros after excelling in high school on the mound – and then not pitching for three years.
Following his 2005 graduation from high school, Neil did not pitch collegiately until 2009. During that time away from the game, he spent time on doing missionary work for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints in Queens, NY.
|Matt Neil throws a pitch for BYU earlier this spring. (Photo courtesy of BYU Sports Information)|
“We would work every day, all day,” Neil said of his mission. “We go around and talk to people and share the gospel of Jesus Christ, give people an opportunity to know that even if they’ve made mistakes in the past, they can fix that. It was really neat to be able to affect people’s lives and see the happiness it could bring. It’s helped me a lot growing up and I was happy to share it with others.”
He returned to baseball as a sophomore at BYU, and worked his way back up the ladder slowly. After just three non-conference appearances with BYU in 2009, he went 4-4 with a 5.94 ERA in 66.2 innings the following season. This year, though, Neil’s stock rose dramatically with a much improved stat line in his 20 appearances in a Cougars uniform, leading to the Marlins calling his name in the draft.
Neil’s season hit its peak in April with the honor of being named National Pitcher of the Week after posting 11 shutout innings against Utah and New Mexico, including his first career complete-game shutout.
“I spent a few years learning how to pitch at this level,” he said. “Every time I go out I fight hard and it was exciting (to be named National Pitcher of the Week). I knew that I was good and getting recognition was a pat on the back, but I know that I’m not there yet. I still have a long way to go.”
The Mesa, Ariz. native has the frame scouts love to see in a pitcher – at 6’6’’, 225 Neil stands as an imposing figure on the mound. Thus far he’s received three starts in a Jammers uniform posting no record and a 4.66 ERA with 10 strikeouts and two walks over 9.2 innings.
At 24 years of age, Neil possesses more life experience, if not more baseball experiences, than the average New York-Penn League player. As such, he fits in well with a veteran clubhouse which can offer wisdom to the team’s rookies.
“A lot of these guys have been through it and have been really good examples to me,” Neil said. “They don’t look down on you as the new guy; they want to help everyone because they want to help the team get better.”