MMN Exclusive: Funky Reliever Matt Pobereyko

By Joseph Hill

April 2, 2018 No comments

Matt Pobereyko/Photo by Ed Delany

Current New York Mets minor league right-handed reliever Matt Pobereyko has had a rollercoaster baseball career thus far.

After graduating from Hammond Bishop Noll Institute in 2010, he had a five-year college career, which was an up-and-down journey within itself. He went to South Suburban College in Illinois for two years, before having to undergo Tommy John surgery in 2012.

Upon returning from Tommy John, he pitched 30 2/3 innings for Kentucky Wesleyan College as both a starter and a reliever, struggling to the tune of an 8.80 ERA and 23-16 K-BB ratio.

The righty threw only three innings in 2014, but finally put it all together in 2015, when, as primarily a starter, he posted a 1.84 ERA with 12.76 K/9 and 6.01 H/9. It was a dominant year which gave Poberyeko some hope that he might get selected in the 2015 MLB draft. However, he knew he was not guaranteed to get drafted, and was realistic in his expectations.

Pobereyko was not selected by any team, so he instead went to pitch professionally for the Florence Freedom in the independent Frontier League. Fully transitioned to a reliever due to his aggressive and all-out style of pitching, he was fantastic for the Freedom, putting up a 1.33 ERA with 13.72 K/9 and 4.43 H/9. He simply built upon the success he had had the year before and was utterly dominant in his first year ever pitching professionally.

His success did not go unnoticed, as he was signed by the Arizona Diamondbacks to a minor league contract in early July of 2016. Upon pitching in the minor leagues for the first time, he picked up right where he left off, giving up just one run in fourteen innings and striking out twenty for the Rookie-level Arizona Diamondbacks.

From there he was promoted all the way up to the High-A Visalia Rawhide, where he gave up one run in four innings before receiving a demotion to the Low-A Hillsboro Hops. While he did record nine strikeouts for the Hops compared to just two walks in 8 2/3 innings, he finally got hit around a little as he gave up twelve runs (eleven earned) along with twelve hits.

In mid-October, Pobereyko was unfortunately released by the Diamondbacks organization. But this didn’t stop him, as he was determined to make it back to a Major League organization.

So he went back to pitch for the Freedom in 2017, and he was as dominant as he had ever been there. In eighteen innings, he gave up just two earned runs and struck out 38, giving him an eye-popping 19.00 K/9. No, that is not a typo. He also limited himself to only five walks for a 2.50 BB/9, allowing only eight hits, none of which were home runs.

Surely enough, this spectacular performance got the attention of another Major League organization. This time, it was the New York Mets. In June, the Mets offered him a minor league contract, so back to the minor leagues he went.

Pobereyko pitched the rest of the year with the A-level Columbia Fireflies. There, he put up a solid 3.15 ERA with a dominant 13.89 K/9 and 6.82 H/9, along with 3.67 BB/9. Batters hit just .205 off him and he allowed only two home runs.

Pobereyko was also impressive enough that the Mets sent him pitch for the Scottsdale Scorpions in the Arizona Fall League. He was part of an all-Mets three-headed monster out of the bullpen for the Scorpions, along with two fellow minor leaguer relievers trying to prove themselves, Tim Peterson and Kyle Regnault. He pitched 11 2/3 innings without allowing a run, striking out thirteen, giving up seven hits, and walking only one.

Pobereyko, 6’3″, 230 pounds, has bit of a funky delivery as he hides the ball and then short-arms it to home plate, making it tough for the hitter to pick up. He throws a fastball which usually sits mid-90s, but has been reported to have reached as high as 100 mph. He complements it with a hard slider and an effective splitter.

Here’s a video of Pobereyko pitching for the 2017 Scottsdale Scorpions in the Arizona Fall League this past October.

This upcoming season, Pobereyko will likely start with the High-A St. Lucie Mets, where continued success could earn him some quick promotions since he’s already 26.

I recently had the chance to ask Matt some questions about his career, and he provided some valuable insight.

MMN: Who introduced you to the game of baseball?

Pobereyko: My dad, we used to always play catch and as I got a little bit older he even nailed a 2×4 into the ground as a mound in our back yard and he would catch for me.

MMN: At what age did you start primarily pitching?

Pobereyko: I wasn’t a pitcher only until I got to college, but around my junior year of high school I began to focus more on pitching than any other aspect of the game.

MMN: Who has been your most influential role model?

Pobereyko: Both my parents have been very supportive of me during the long journey. Any time there has been a low over this crazy path of a career they have been there to help me get back up.

MMN: How difficult was the experience of having to get Tommy John surgery in 2012? Did you ever feel like giving up?

Pobereyko: After Tommy John I definitely was not at the point of having thoughts about giving up. There were points where I thought I may not recover to the fullest, but I was never ready to hang up the cleats. I was tried much more when I had to have second elbow surgery in 2014 to remove hardware that had been installed in my elbow from Tommy John. With my lack of success the year after Tommy John in 2013, and my inability to throw the ball without pain in 2014 I was very close to being done with the game.

MMN: After struggling in college thus far, what changes did you make to dominate in your 2015 season?

Pobereyko: 2015 felt very much like an all or nothing year. I don’t think there was any real change made in my game. I finally just had the physical health I needed to show what I had. It was the three years of injury prior to this season that had me highly motivated to get out there and dominate in every way I could.

Matt Pobereyko/Photo by Ed Delany

MMN: I read that you had a good relationship with your coach at Kentucky Wesleyan College, Todd Lillpop. Can you say a little bit about what made him such a good coach and how he helped you moving forward?

Pobereyko: Pop is a guy who stayed with me throughout the process of the surgeries and the ups and downs of my first couple years there. It could’ve been very easy for him to just throw me to the back of a depth chart and be done with it. He and his entire staff, over the course of my three years there could not have been better to me or the team as whole. They built something special.

Our recruiting class came in and struggled year one, but years two and three we flipped from a 15 win team to a 30+ win team both years. I came from a junior college where the coaching made me not in love with the game of baseball, it was a struggle to feel like I wanted to be there. At KWC the coaching staff had an atmosphere that was going to push people to work hard, but also it was loose enough that every practice and game was enjoyable. It was a phenomenal group of players and coaches, on and off the field.

MMN: At what point did you make the transition from starter to reliever? How quickly were you able to adjust to your new role?

Pobereyko: I closed games for my college summer team for two years (2013, 2014) while still being a starter at school. this definitely helped the transition, but the transition wasn’t a difficult one. I don’t pitch differently as a starter or reliever. Regardless I’m going to be aggressive, and I’m going to use all my stuff whenever I need it. I think that mindset made it a very quick adjustment.

MMN: What was your reaction when you went undrafted out of college, and was it disappointing after such a great 2015 season?

Pobereyko: I knew I wasn’t a lock to be a draft pick, but my hopes were fairly high that I would get picked. It was a pretty disappointing day when the draft concluded. At that point I wasn’t really sure what I was going to do going forward.

Matt Pobereyko/Photo by Ed Delany

MMN: After all the hard work you had put in, was it disappointing to be released by the Diamondbacks, and how were you able to move forward? Was it tough to return to Indy ball after briefly signing with a professional team?

Pobereyko: It was disappointing, for sure, to be let go of, but after seeing the talent around me at three different levels I knew I wasn’t out of my league. I think that was my biggest motivation to get back.

Obviously, I didn’t want to return to Indy ball, but I really don’t have a complaint about having to do it. I don’t think I deserved to be released from Arizona and I think going to back to Indy ball and putting up the numbers I did should have showed them that. I went back with the intent to make a statement.

MMN: What differences are there pitching in affilated ball compared to Indy ball?

Pobereyko: Well, Indy ball is pro ball. There are guys there who have played in the minor leagues, and guys who will eventually get there. I personally don’t think there is a huge difference. Pitching is pitching no matter where I’m doing it. I approach hitters the same way, and use my stuff in the same way as well. The one slight difference I believe there is, is that you get away with less mistakes.

MMN: After pitching brilliantly for the Freedom in 2017, did you receive offers from any other team besides the Mets? If so, what made you choose the Mets?

Pobereyko: There were other interested teams, but the Mets were the first to send a contract over. In Indy ball you don’t ever pass up a contract on the table because there’s no guarantee another one will come in.

MMN: As you look to progress through the Mets minor league system this year, what things have you been working on most in Spring Training?

Pobereyko: I’m just really working on maintaining what I had going in Arizona. continuing to develop more and more consistency with my pitches and locating them. Just trying to show this organization who am I and what they signed, since this is my first time down at this complex and my first time meeting a lot of the coaches and coordinators.

MMN: Have you enjoyed working with your new teammates and coaches in the Mets organization?

Pobereyko: This has been a great group of guys to get to know, and they were very welcoming from day one in Columbia. Jonathon Hurst (Columbia pitching coach, and pitching coach in the Arizona Fall League) has been incredibly good to me. He went out of his way to make me feel like I had a home with this organization and I couldn’t be more thankful for that.