Lehigh’s pitching duo latest to pursue shared dream
Creator: Josh Liddick, Lehigh Sports Communications
When they hear their names mentioned in the 2021 Major League Baseball First Year Player Draft on Sunday, Monday or Tuesday evening, Junior Mason Black and Senior Matt Svanson will be the 18th and 19th players in the Lehigh Baseball program to become a major league Franchise.
Perhaps more impressive, they’ll join three other Lehigh alumni currently playing minor league ball, bringing that number to five active professional players, something that has never happened in the baseball program’s 135-year history .
Needless to say, the pitching duo that dominated the Patriot League beating in 2021 are ready for this next challenge, the next step in their promising baseball career.
“The fact that the draft is next week hasn’t really hit me,” said Black. “I think I’m still in that mindset where it’s pretty far off when it’s really next week, so I’ll get a better grip on it.
“But it’s exciting and a little bit nerve-wracking. So I try to keep that mindset all year round and just take it day by day. I know Matt and I had a FaceTime the other day about where we were just like, ‘What will happen?’ But of course it’s just so exciting in the end. “
Black had his sights set on the scouts behind the backstop for much of his college career, especially since joining the Cape Cod League and starting the All-Star Game the summer before his sophomore year. He went into the 2021 season with high expectations and lived up to them and received Lehigh’s first honor as Patriot League Pitcher of the Year since 2002.
At this point, even though the Scouts knew pretty much everything there was to know about Black, he was making an appearance, like all season, at the first MLB Draft Combine in Cary, NC on June 24th. Last time he competed untied, Black showed his skills why he is considered one of the best right-handers on the East Coast.
“I think the goal was to go out there and be myself for the most part,” said Black. “I’m not going to be the type to try to light the radar gun and throw it a hundred miles an hour. That’s not me.
“So the game plan was to just do what I tried to do all year and hit my fastball, show a good mix of my pitches and, in the time I had, remind them that I was still I’m from the pitcher and the person who explored them. “
Unlike his teammate, Svanson didn’t have the luxury of putting his skills to the test in the combine setting scouts, but in some ways he didn’t have to be there to show what a pitcher he is.
Svanson nudged in his final career foray for the Mountain Hawks, walking eight strong innings without a deserved run, and leading his team to a winning take-all game 3 against Army West Point in the Patriot League Championship Series. And that summer, he played with and against many players ready for the big league for the first time in his career and had two goalless games with Wareham Gatemen. Svanson cut six on his first appearance and four on his second before being released to focus on drafting preparations.
“I’ve had two completely different mindsets this year,” said Svanson. “During the championship we knew we had to win or go home. But whoever I play with, I’ve tried to put this team on my back every time I step on that hill.
“I did everything I could to be competitive but up at the Cape I just enjoyed being able to play baseball. I went last year but it was canceled due to COVID. So just going up there, having a good time and going up the hill for some fun was my way of thinking. “
Both Black and Svanson went off-season in 2020 to work on certain things to improve their craft. While both are talented throwers at the diamond, both are observant students of the game and will likely continue to learn new things for the rest of their careers in the sport. Black went to the record last summer to upgrade his secondary fields to work with his sharp fastball, while Svanson knew he wanted to focus on his arsenal of off-speed.
“The most important thing I’ve been working on over the last year or so has been my off-speed pitches,” said Svanson. “I’ve definitely come a long way because my off-speed spots used to be terrible, but now they’re getting pretty mediocre, which is a big step forward for me. I used to be, even until the last summer ball.” Season, a fastball-only pitcher.
“But this summer in the Cape I threw all three of my throws in every single count. I have so much faith in them. That’s the biggest thing. If you are shy about throwing and you have no conviction, it’s not what to do You want to.”
Unfortunately, Black knew what he was up to this summer, but working on his body was something he made a priority before life went insane in mid-July.
“I really focused on getting back to the gym and resetting my body, which was a big deal for me,” said Black. “For myself, I was just trying to mechanically clean up a few things and kept throwing as much as I could.
“I’ve had some workout stuff and that got me bogged down. But I keep refining my off-speed pitches and eventually work on it in a pitching lab with a professional team so I can hit the ground.” run next year. “
Over the years, many talented players have been picked up by major league franchises, which is a dream come true for many. But getting called on the show was something that many of them missed.
So far, Matt McBride ’07 is the only player in the 26-year tenure of head coach Sean Leary to make his major league debut. Black and Svanson will be on the next level next week alongside Mark Washington, Levi Stoudt and Jason Reynolds, all of whom strive to become the next Mountain Hawk to hit the big stage.
“It’s great for me to see these guys do well at the next level,” said Black. “I coined the term ‘pitcher farm’ in Lehigh just because we’re so passionate about it. Just to see them lay the stones and the foundations and Matt and I follow in their footsteps and hopefully one day the show doing is “just super exciting.
“It means a lot not only to ourselves, but also to the way Coach Leary is recruiting for the future program.”
In 2020 the draft consisted of five rounds and this year for the first time the event will have 20 rounds and, like pretty much every season, the teams interested in Black and Svanson are largely unknown. Though the duo are die-hard Phillies and Red Sox fans, they don’t care which team they join within a few days.
“It seemed like every team that interviewed me during this process asked me who my favorite team was,” said Black. “I just told them it was ‘whoever gets me’. I just kept it because you can still promote someone until you become part of this team. But I would take anyone now, it will be fun either way. “
Svanson’s entire family is made up of the Red Sox fandom, although he grew up outside of Chicago. What if the Bronx bombers were in his future?
“My family asked me what I would do if the Yankees called me up,” laughed Svanson. “It has become a running joke. But all jokes aside, I will support every team I go on. I will always have a special place in my heart for the organization that called me. I want to become an organization walk.” That will help me to develop myself further and reach the next level. Maybe later on I can stay with this one team and become one of their boys. That’s the dream. “
As Black and Svanson prepare to go their separate ways in professional baseball, the duo have learned a lot from each other and tried to bring that expertise to the next chapter of their lives.
“I think if you hire Matt from his junior year until now you can see such confidence in him, it’s unreal the change I’ve seen,” said Black. “It’s something I’ve tried to take from him in order to have the confidence to throw any throw I want, wherever I want.
“I was blessed to have Matt by my side, who has coached me all last year and seen that confidence and tried to imitate it himself.”
On the flip side, Svanson couldn’t pick just one thing from Mason that he’s looked up to for the past three years.
“There are several things I saw at Mason that impressed me,” said Svanson. “The way he behaves on the hill is inspiring. I’m competitive and I tend to show it when I serve, but Mason ‘washes it off’ when something bad happens on the field. I looked up at Jason [Reynolds] a lot before he left after his junior year and was only drawn to Mason after that.
“I learned a lot about how I train, eat and the like from Mason. I’m still trying to learn his slider over the past few years, ”he joked. “Haven’t figured that out yet.”
Surrounded by friends and family, Black and Svanson learn their fate when the MLB Draft begins with the first round on Sunday evening at 7 p.m. on the MLB Network. Day 2 starts on Monday at 1 p.m. and Day 3 starts on Tuesday lunchtime, both of which are streamed on MLB.com.
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