“I heard from some scouts that he was running it up there, and his velocity was good – I think he’s been up to 92,” said Neu, who can now talk publicly about his newest commit and now, signee. “He’s a big body, and struck out 12 against College Park – who’s the No. 1 team in the country, at the time, and then he struck out 14 against Amador Valley. I went to that game, and he struck out nine of the first 10 hitters he faced.”
The 6-foot-3, 200-pound right-hander out of Danville (Calif.) San Ramon Valley committed to Cal on a weekend that saw the football team snag quarterback Max Gilliam and Derrick Clark for the 2016 class, but on the same day that the Bears basketball team hauled in a commitment from Tyson Jolly -- who officially signed with Cal on Wednesday.
“I narrowed my decision down to USF and Cal, because I kind of wanted to stay close to home,” Matulovich said. “I picked up an offer from Santa Barbara last week, but it’s hard not to go with the Pac-12. I really like Mike Neu and coach David Esquer over there, with what they’re doing.”
Matulovich, in the midst of his senior season, was highly-sought-after, with offers from San Francisco, Cal Poly, UC Davis and UC Santa Barbara, and currently sports a 0.87 ERA in 32.1 innings of work, with 50 strikeouts, three complete games and two shutouts.
He’s 4-1 on the season in six starts, and has walked just nine men and allowed one extra-base hit. Three of those walks came in his April 3 no-hitter against Amador Valley, leading to his one earned run on the evening.
“I heard some good things, got a chance to see him throw a bullpen, and then got a chance to see him pitch, and he was really good,” Neu said. “He’s been dominating the EBAL, which is a really good league. We got on him. I know he had a lot of other offers, but he liked Cal, he’s a good student, a tough competitor.”
After Neu saw Matulovich in person, the big righty came on an unofficial visit two weeks ago, and, Neu said, “That was kind of it.”
“I really liked the campus a lot,” Matulovich said. “It was a good vibe. Their facilities are hard to match, because it’s in the Pac-12, and with a big-time program like that, they really have nice facilities.”
Four years after the program was cut and then saved thanks to $10 million in donations, the Bears are thriving, and through the first two weekends of conference play, were tied for first with No. 3 UCLA, who Cal visits this weekend. The Bears are currently in fourth place, and are, at the moment, very likely to make the postseason for the first time since the 2011 College World Series run.
“I’ve gone to quite a few games, seen quite a few games, but one of my coaches over the summer played with Mike Neu over at Sac City, so he knows him really well,” Matulovich said. “He knows he’s a good guy, and that he knows what he’s doing, so that was a huge turning point for me, also.”
Neu currently has the Cal pitching staff ranked No. 25 in the nation with a 2.97 ERA.
“Mike’s a really big competitor,” Matulovich said. “He played at Miami, won the College World Series, he knows how to pitch, knows how to build arm strength, so that was huge to me.”
Matulovich and the No. 33-ranked outfielder in the nation -- Lorenzo Hampton -- added themselves to the ranks of a very talented 2015 signing class, including Ty Greene, Ripken Reyes, Aaron Shortridge, Mike Soroka, Tanner Dodson and Jeffrey Mitchell, who faced Matulovich earlier this season, during Matulovich’s one-hitter against College Park.
“I got the better of him, in that game,” Matulovich laughed. “I think I struck him out once, and I think he got two groundballs off me in his next two at-bats.”
Matulovich has a wide variety of pitches from his three-quarter delivery, from his 88-92 fastball to a slider, curve and change.
“A lot of coaches have told me I need to change [my delivery], but it seems to work for me,” Matulovich said. “I attack the strike zone, and throw a lot of pitches off of my fastball and slider, out of the same arm slot. I can throw a slider in a fastball count, change up in a fastball count. Curveball is something I like to go with 1-2, 0-2, maybe even 2-2 counts.”
He is deceptive, hiding the ball well, and hitters have a tough time getting on his fastball. Neu sees Matulovich as a 93-95 power arm down the road.
“When you throw two no-hitters against two real teams in Amador Valley and Palo Alto, and a one-hitter against College Park, I don’t care how hard you throw, I don’t think some of the best high school guys in the country have no-hitters,” Neu said. “He’s got some deception, he’s got some life, and there’s not a ton of effort in his delivery. The ball comes out of his hand really well, and he’s not a max-effort guy. I think he’s got some toughness in him, too. His coaches really like him, he showed some poise against good teams, finishing off some games, and I think he’s really serious about being good.”
Neu was also impressed with Matulovich’s preparation, and work ethic.
“I think his stuff is going to translate here, and to professional baseball, at some point,” Neu said.
Matulovich – who has a 3.57 GPA and a 1670 GPA – will graduate at age 17, and has room to get even bigger and stronger, just like Soroka has.
“There’s a lot of upside,” Neu said. “There’s some stuff that works now that can help us right away, and his ceiling is really high, just being a big, physical kid who’s still young.”
Given the pitching depth the Bears are currently enjoying – and will continue to enjoy, with the addition of the 2015 class – competition will be fierce for the midweek starting gig next season, and for top spots in the bullpen.
“Looking at next year, we have a lot of really good freshmen coming in, that will have a chance to compete for one of those starter spots, and if not, we’ve got some good opportunities in the ‘pen,” Neu said. “We have some guys coming in who are really going to push some of the other guys, and be able to help us right away. Obvioysly, you can never have enough good pitching, so there will be some good competition between the older guys and younger guys, and that’s always a good thing.”
“They know what they’re doing, and they’re getting the guys in there and developing them,” Matulovich said. “Coach Esquer has been there for 16 years, and he’s been around and knows what he’s doing.”
The No. 16 Bears (22-11, 9-6 in Pac-12) face No. 3 UCLA (26-7, 12-3 in Pac-12) starting on Thursday at 7 p.m., at Jackie Robinson Stadium in Los Angeles.