Who is Matt Szczur?
He chose football before he chose baseball. In 2007, after the Dodgers drafted him in the 38th round, he decided to play football at Villanova University. Thumbing his nose at the Dodgers is a plus in my book. He played wide receiver, running back, quarterback and was a punt return specialist. He earned several football honors including MVP and All-American. In his spare time he played baseball. What position? Center field! Those two words are important to the D-backs!
He saved a girls’ life. At Villanova, all freshmen football players were tested for compatibility for bone marrow donations. Szczur had a 1 in 80,000 chance of being a match. A 15-month-old Ukrainian girl named Anastasia was battling leukemia. Her leukemia was life threatening and she needed a donor that matched. Szczur was a match.
In 2009, Szczur donated his bone marrow to save her life. (Sources: Duane Pesice, SB Nation, and Adam Green, Knoxville News Sentinel). Giving bone marrow was a risk for Szczur.
- “That was my junior season, when you really have to play your best so you can show the scouts what you can do. So you can get the most money you can. But there was no way I wouldn’t do it [donate]. It was well worth it.” — Matt Szczur
- It required him to take a drug called Neupogen to help his body produce more white blood cells. Neupogen enlarged his spleen and caused multiple body aches.
- ”If I made a quick movement it felt like my muscles were going to tear. It cramped me up and gave me a lot of bone pain.” — Matt Szczur
His marriage proposal was memorable. In November of 2013, Matt Szczur arranged a backstage pass for him and his girlfriend at the Ambassador Theater in New York. The show was Chicago: The Musical. “I proposed to her on the stage before the show with the cast members there....we went back at intermission and took pictures with the cast members.” — Matt Szczur Her name is Natalie Cooper, and they are now married. (Source: Carrie Muskat, MLB.com)
His mental attitudes are awesome.
A scout said his greatest strength was his desire to succeed and he is known for having an outstanding makeup. (Source Marc Hulet, FanGraphs) A video interview by VC Star in February of 2017 provided the following quotes:
- “Embrace failure because it is part of the process.” — Matt Szczur
- “Failure is part of the everyday process; it’s part of the progress; by embracing the self you need to find a way to get better.” — Matt Szczur
- “You don’t need to do that [meet the president of the United States] to be successful; and all you need to do is be happy every day and love to go to your job, and that’s what I do.” — Matt Szczur
- When Matt is at home, he does ball drills. “That’s how much I want to get better.” “…use it [your passion] to get better every day.” — Matt Szczur
He played baseball before the D-backs acquired him.
In 2010, the Cubs drafted him in the fifth round. He was considered a Cubs top-15 prospect. From 2014 to 2017, he played in 202 games for the Cubs.
In May 2017, the Padres acquired Matt Szczur in a trade with the Cubs.
“He’s an outfielder that we think is very strong from a defense standpoint. He hasn’t performed offensively as well as the Cubs would’ve liked, but he’s a high character guy.” —Ron Fowler, Padres Chairman, May 10, 2017
Matt Szczur performed near replacement level for both offense and defense. In 2018, April and May were good (OPS .569), but in June his OPS fell 32% to .388. In those three months, his strikeout percentage spiked from his prior range (16.7%-19.5%) to a career high (28.6%). Statcast showed the problem was off-speed pitches - 62.5% strikeouts with zero percent walks.
On 1 July 2018, the Padres released him from the 40 man roster, and he accepted assignment to the minors. At the end of the season, because he remained off the 40-man roster, he was entitled to become a free agent, which he did.
His future is bright as a D-back.
The D-backs signed him to a minor league contract. He was assigned to AAA Reno. He has the right stuff to play for the D-backs. He is athletic. He has “plus-plus speed.” —Marc Hulet, FanGraphs. His mental attitudes are positive. Let’s conclude with four points:
- Szczur could play in center field. In the last three seasons his UZR/150 in center field was positive (+20.6, +1.3, +49.1). (Source: FanGraphs) Szczur can defend well in center field! A scout said he expects Szczur to become an everyday player in center field or possibly left field. (Source Mark Hulet, FanGraphs)
- Szczur will likely improve his hitting. His 2018 strikeout rate was based on a small sample size (84 plate appearances). I’m very confident that Darnell Coles, the new D-back hitting coach, will help him with off-speed pitches and he will restore his strikeout rate of 16.7% to 19.5%.
- His splits show that he hit better when he starts a game than when he subs (OPS .596 vs .497). (Source: Baseball Reference)
- His splits show that he hit better as the lead-off hitter of an inning (OPS .613 vs .498). (Source: Baseball Reference)