Being a professional athlete is both exciting and new for former Lehigh baseball players Mason Black and Matt Svanson.
The right-handed pitchers were both selected in the 2021 MLB Draft. Black was the 85th overall pick by the San Francisco Giants, and Svanson was the 392nd overall pick to the Toronto Blue Jays.
Svanson and Black have joined their respective organizations and continue to work hard to climb the ladder of professional baseball.
Black described the anticipation of the draft a week prior as a period of silence. He finished workouts with multiple teams and conducted final interviews, but in that time, the brunt of the work was dealt with by his agent.
“I found out I was drafted 10 seconds before my name was announced, and it was an unbelievable sense of relief,” Black said. “I was then flown out to Arizona where the spring training site is located for Rookie Ball for the remainder of the year.”
The climb to get to the Major Leagues is not easy. Black was drafted by the Giants organization and is playing for their minor league affiliate.
Teams have different philosophies when it comes to minor league pitchers. Most prospects coming out of college usually require less time than international and high school players before being ready for their Major League debut.
In recent history, the San Francisco Giants have used their third-round selections on high school prospects, selecting Seth Corry in 2017, Jacob Ryne Wong in 2018, Grant McCray in 2019 and Kyle Harrison in 2020.
All of these prospects are currently on the Giants top 30 prospect list besides Wong, who suffered a major injury, according to the MLB Network’s 2021 prospect rankings. Despite this, none of these third-round picks have risen past Single-A baseball for the Giants organization.
The decision to pick a college arm instead of a high school pitcher could be to expedite the developmental process.
The Giants picked three college pitchers to start the 2021 MLB draft, a change to their recent strategy.
Before this year, the most recent college pitcher the Giants selected with one of their top three selections was Sean Hjelle, who was a 2018 second-round pick and currently plays in Triple-A, the highest level of the minor leagues.
Black said that climbing the ranks to the highest level is developmental and performance-based. Since he did not pitch at Rookie Ball, his placement for this upcoming season will be based on his performance in Spring training.
After a short season for the Toronto Blue Jays Low-A team, Svanson performed the way he wanted to.
He said to play at the level he is, you need to have confidence or else you’re going to deteriorate.
“All you need is a good outing or the ball to bounce your way to get back into a rhythm,” Svanson said. “Confidence comes from knowing your body, knowing yourself, and understanding why something went wrong.”
Svanson was a 13th round pick by the Blue Jays, but already debuted and played in 11 games, earning five saves and holding a 2.30 ERA in 15.2 innings pitched.
Both Black and Svanson have translated well physically to the professional level.
Black said that he had a nice background in strength training and from a movement perspective, a lot of the workouts he did at Lehigh transferred over to pro-ball.
“At Lehigh, things are very position based, whereas in professional ball there is more access to resources, so everything is individual,” Black said. “They would do a ton of movement screenings on us and power outputs and adjust our workouts tailored to those results.”
Black hopes that the individually tailored workouts will allow him to further strengthen his arm while preventing injuries.
Much like the Giants, the Blue Jays organization stresses workouts to be performed on their own.
“The way they have focussed the training is individual,” Svanson said. “The training emphasizes being effective in what benefits you as a player.”
Svanson and Black have both created relationships with their teams that will last them throughout their professional careers and life.
After two weeks of Rookie Camp, Svanson explained that some players were sent to other locations of the organization. He said it was hard to build relationships, as many were coming and going.
Svanson said he met and interacted with players from all over the world.
Black too was able to become close with the other 2021 San Francisco Giant draft picks such as, Will Bednar from Mississippi State, Matt Mikulski from Fordham University and Nick Sinacola from the University of Maine.
He said he has been able to mesh well with the other guys his age in a professional environment.
Both Black and Svanson have used their positions as professional athletes to give back to their communities.
“The opportunity to go home and run a camp and help kids is one of the biggest perks of being a professional athlete,” Black said.
As for Svanson, he is still coming to grips with the fact that baseball is his occupation.
“The craziest thing for me is that this is my job,” Svanson said. “I go to the field everyday, and I love what I do.”
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