Taking the ball in the latest C’s Chat is 2022 Vancouver Canadians pitcher Matt Svanson.
Born in Lake Zurich, Illinois, a northwest suburb of Chicago, the right-handed Svanson dominated on the mound at Lake Zurich High by pitching two perfect games, including his first varsity start as a sophomore in 2015, to go along with two no-hitters. He earned a 2017 Perfect Game Central Region honorable mention in his senior season.
Committing to Lehigh University in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, Svanson endured a tough three years with the Mountain Hawks before putting it all together in his senior season of 2021.
“Svanson is a 6-foot-5 senior who struggled through his first three years at Lehigh, posting a 6.42 ERA in 2019 and a 7.77 ERA in 2020. He turned things around this spring, though, cutting down to a 2.30 ERA in 70.1 innings with 65 strikeouts and 24 walks. His velocity picked up as the season progressed, sitting around 89-91 mph early in the year, then in his last few starts in May he was operating at 91-94 mph and touched 96. He throws a slider and a changeup that don’t miss many bats, but the uptick with his fastball is an encouraging sign.”
Svanson’s 2.30 ERA with the Mountain Hawks in 2021 was tops in the Patriot League and he was named to the Patriot League All-Tournament team.
The Toronto Blue Jays would select Svanson in the 13th round of the 2021 MLB Draft and gave him a $50,000 signing bonus. Signed by scout Tom Burns, Svanson would make his pro debut with the Dunedin Blue Jays August 4 of last year. He struck out the first batter he faced and had a perfect inning to earn the save in Fort Myers. Save number two came in his next outing in Fort Myers August 8 with another shutout frame that included two punchouts. In his last two appearances of August, both two innings apiece, Svanson racked up saves in Lakeland August 26 and against Palm Beach August 31, ringing up four and two batters respectively.
On September 4, Svanson struck out five against Palm Beach and would end the year going 5-fot-5 in saves with a shutout frame in Clearwater September 17. He completed 15-2/3 innings and struck out 23 against eight walks while limiting Florida State League hitters to a .143 batting average.
That performance led Baseball America to name Svanson as the Blue Jays best late-round pick in the 2021 Draft.
“Best Late-Round Pick (Or NDFA): Righthander Matt Svanson (13) was a senior sign out of Lehigh who inked a $50,000 deal after a breakout spring, where he posted a 2.30 ERA in 70.1 innings while ticking his fastball up to 96 mph late in the year. The pitch is a heavy sinker and was in the mid-90s during his pro debut with Dunedin as well, where he posted a 2.30 ERA over 15.2 relief innings while also notching the best strikeout rate (13.2 K/9) of his career.”
Svanson started the 2022 season back in Dunedin and made his first professional start where he pitched four shutout innings with just one hit and one walk allowed, striking out five Tampa Tarpons in enemy territory April 12. He would put together four more scoreless innings in his next start by scattering two hits and a walk and whiffing another five batters against Fort Myers April 17.
The month of May began with a career-high five scoreless frames from the fifth inning on to earn his first win of the year against Clearwater May 3 by working around four hits and a walk while K’ing four batters. In June, Svanson lost three straight starts but found his form again July 4 when he limited Clearwater to one run over five innings and struck out a career-high six. On July 22, he put up four zeros with four strikeouts against Fort Myers and that would land him a promotion to Vancouver after going 5-5 with a 4.37 ERA with a 60-20 K/BB total over 59-2/3 innings with Dunedin.
Svanson’s C’s debut was at Nat Bailey Stadium July 27 against Everett in which he recorded a strikeout as part of a perfect inning. His longest outing came August 3 (the game resumed August 4 after being suspended due to rain) against Tri-City as he held the Dust Devils to an unearned run over four innings before the C’s walked off the Dust Devils in 10 innings to earn the victory.
C’s Plus Baseball caught up with the 23 year-old Swanson during the team’s homestand against Tri-City in early August.
This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.
C’s Plus Baseball – What was your draft day experience like?
Matt Svanson – My draft day was pretty exciting. I was with my family and friends at my grandparents’ place. So having them around and stuff was pretty cool. More is the fact that it was the Blue Jays, which was awesome. I didn’t grow up necessarily a Blue Jays fan, but I mean, I didn’t hate them. I visited Toronto my freshman year of college and fell in love with the city. So in Canada, in general, I enjoyed it too. It was pretty exciting. Also some of my family was down by their training place so it’s just a lot of emotions. A lot of things seemed to work out perfectly. So yeah, it was awesome.
CPB – Did you have any idea it was going to be the Blue Jays who would take you?
MS – Once you kind of get to the day three part of the draft, there’s so many teams calling you about this and that. And there’s so much stuff going off the board, but I was in contact with the Blue Jays. They were one of the first teams that ever talked to me and I was always in consistent contact. So when they called me, I wasn’t surprised by any means. They were always in the running and stuff. I didn’t talk to them that much during the actual draft process. So that kind of came a little bit out of nowhere but I wasn’t surprised because I’ve talked to them so much and they’ve always been at my games throughout college so I wasn’t too surprised.
CPB – Talk about your four years with Lehigh. What stands out for you when you look back?
MS – There’s so much to talk about. It was a smaller school and stuff like that but I came into there not like the guy also. So it took a couple years, I started getting a bigger role around until my senior year. Obviously COVID kind of shut everything down my junior year. So who knows how that year would turned out or if I would’ve been drafted that year with a 20-round draft. Once I hit my senior year, kind of being one of the centers of the team with my good buddy who’s with Eugene (pitcher Mason Black). He also got drafted as a senior as I did. We were in a smaller conference. We were doing well and kind of feel like we were helping take care of the team and stuff. But just the atmosphere, we don’t have any transfers coming in and out. So when we came into school, we had that same class the entire way. So we all became like brothers and stuff. That side of it was great. I mean, great coaching. I loved the guys there, great atmosphere. It was my dream school growing up just for the academic side of it so it was awesome. And that definitely helped me develop to how I am today.
CPB – How did you develop as a pitcher when you were there?
MS – When I went into college, I was severely underweight. And then over my course of three, four years there, I put on almost 100 pounds. I wasn’t like really overweight. I just filled out. It was just a matter of actually eating, taking care of my body and stuff like that. I didn’t pitch much my freshman year, I wasn’t really that good so I kind of realized that to start turning it around. I had other guys who were drafted a year or two before me that I kind of follow in their footsteps because I was like, ‘This is what I want to do. I don’t want to work in an office.’ So it actually got me to want to train, take care of my body and hold myself accountable. I don’t know if I could have gotten that elsewhere or that necessarily I would’ve even gotten a chance, like my freshman year wasn’t good. Who knows, I could have been cut somewhere else. But because I was at Lehigh, I was able to kind of keep developing and working with people and eventually was able to mature throughout the years there.
CPB – Were you always a pitcher growing up?
MS – When I was young, I was shortstop, center field, like three-hole hitter but when I started getting older, I knew pitching was more for me. Hitting was just never my thing. Once the slider and curveball start coming into play, that’s when I started to go downhill. I could hit a fastball back in the day, but I mean my junior year of high school is where I transferred just to a pitcher only. I also committed to school then. So I was like, ‘I don’t want to be hitting and maybe injure myself.’ And I just wasn’t really even part of the lineup at that point because I just wasn’t that good at hitting.
CPB – Who helped you develop as a pitcher?
MS – There was just so many different people, like a lot of the players and the people I went to school with at the time learning from them. But yeah, honestly the coaches, I had great strength coordinators at Lehigh. The head coach was always there, supportive, like very knowledgeable. And then my senior year, we got a new pitching coach who was a great guy. He was only there for a year before getting picked up by an MLB team. So he was awesome just for like mentality then just the mechanics and stuff like that. The summer ball coach, the pitching coach also were great. It just like came from all different sides. So with everyone giving input, I was able to learn how to know what I need to do for myself, but take other people’s input and bring it into my day-to-day life and my games.
CPB – Talk about your pitch mix. What is it that you throw?
MS – When I was starting down back in Dunedin, I was mostly sinker. The sinker is my best pitch, I’ve thrown it since high school. It gets me out of situations. So a sinker and now I’m throwing kind of like a tighter slider. Now that I’m relieving, the last outing was definitely extended (August 3 vs. Tri-City) but I’m relieving now. I could get most outs with my sinker and just compliment the slider so really those two are my main two pitches. I do have a changeup which I’ve been working on but now I’m not starting anymore, I don’t really need it for shorter stints. I really just need to throw my best stuff out there and get guys out. A changeup and then a four-seam (fastball) sometimes, but really the sinker and slider are my two main pitches.
CPB – With the slider, did anyone teach you that?
MS – (Laughs) I’ve gone through so many sliders. If there’s a slider out there. I’ve thrown it at some point in my life. I had trouble in college figuring a slider out, whether it’s throwing it hard, getting it to move or control it. And then this past year in spring training, I really started to hone in on how to throw an actual slider. And I still tinkered with it but like whenever I tweaked it a little bit, it still ended up playing because I learned how to control it. I learned when to throw it, how to throw it and understand it. So really in spring trainining is when it kind of took off and now like I’m able to shape it how exactly I want it and now I just feel comfortable with it. 3-2 count, bases loaded. I feel confident to throw it in there for a strike. I’ m glad to be able to get to that point now. It’s been a long time.
CPB – The change. Is it a circle change or split change?
MS – It’s a circle change. I played around with the split change earlier but it was just too hard and people just kind of luck into it sometimes because the feel difference wasn’t much. So it’s a circle change. Usually I just throw it to lefties but it really depends depends on the hitter, the situation. I don’t really need it right now in shorter innings where I can just dominate and go to my first two pitches. But if I face someone a second time through the lineup, maybe like a prospect left-handed hitter, just to show something else. But right now, I don’t really throw it too much.
CPB -Relieving or starting, does it matter to you?
MS – I just like pitching, I love relieving. I think the adrenaline coming into the game, like the higher leverage situations I like better. Obviously with starting, the weekly routine over and over does help but I feel like I’ve adapted quickly to the relieving routine and I just like the situations better. It’s a lot more fun coming in with guys on base in the eighth, ninth, one-run games, that’s my favorite (situation), that’s what I live for.
CPB – You began your pro career with Dunedin last year. How was your first professional season?
MS – Last year was an awesome experience. I mean, it was great what they did where we were at our complex for two weeks and then they sent us out for about a month. So we got a little taste of it before having a full season this year but it was great that summer . We played our big leagues, big training field. So beautiful facilities like absolutely spoiled there. I mean it’s great here also, but MLB spring training brand new facilities is something I can’t complain about, but I mean, it was great. It was good baseball playing a lot of other guys out of the draft too. So it wasn’t too different. I was around a lot of people, so I started to get comfortable in the system.
CPB – At the Player Development Complex (in Dunedin), what did you learn about yourself there?
MS – I’ve learned a lot. The recovery side is probably the biggest is what I’ve developed over the past year or so. In college. I was like, ‘I gotta get stronger, faster, all that stuff. So I’d just go, go, go.’ I’d just be sore and I’d be able to fight through it because I was 19, 20 years old. I’m not that old by any means but over time, you kind of forget how important recovery is when you’re playing from February every single year. So I’d say recovery is the biggest factor and then just pitching, just learning how to trust my stuff I’d say is the biggest thing. They preach that like, ‘You’re all here for a reason, your stuff is good. Just throw it in the zone, as simple as it sounds, and just attack, trust it. And if you throw with conviction, it’s going to work out.
CPB – For 2022, you were back in Dunedin. How was the beginning of 2022 for you?
MS – It was alright. I thought I was going to be a reliever this year, but they wanted try me as a starter which in hindsight was probably for the best because I got more innings and more time to figure stuff out. I had started off really well and then had like kind of a month where I just really struggled. I didn’t really have an identity. I got away from just what I was good at. And then with time, I started to kind of figure it out with the pitching coach down there. I didn’t really change much other than just like my confidence and how much I use pitches or when I use pitches. So it’s just like being able to learn and be like, ‘Wait. You are good. You’re just thinking too much or you’re not throwing stuff with conviction’. So it definitely helped. And now here they’ve put me in the reliever role which I was excited for and now I feel like I’m just ready to keep continuing my pro career.
CPB – You got the word you’re going to Vancouver. How did you find out?
MS – it was after I had a start, went four innings, almost perfect. Had one little bloop hit and then I got taken out at only 60 pitches. I thought I was a little fishy and also I have a lot of friends up here already. They’d moved a lot of pitchers just like the day before. And I’m like, ‘This is interesting.’ So then after the game, the pitching coach brought me in the office and they were just like, ‘Hey, you’re going to Vancouver but you’re going as a reliever.’ I knew it was going to come eventually. I know my place higher up is going to be a reliever, like that’s how my stuff plays. I was so ecstatic and had a flight the next morning at 6:00 AM. So yeah, quick turnaround but I was so excited.
CPB – Off-the-wall question. How long did it take to get you here and where did you have to connect?
MS – I woke up at 4:00 AM. So 1:00 AM here. And then flew to Minneapolis for three hours and then three hours to Spokane (where the team was) so I get there about an hour before the bus leaves to go to the field and I go to the field and then they’re like, ‘Hey, you have a total body lift today.’ I’m like, ‘Oh my God! Wow!. (laughs). So I did that, sat through the game, once it hit like 8:00 eight o’clock, which would be 11 o’clock my time, I was pretty much up for 22 consecutive hours. I’m like, ‘Oh my God.’ I was just in the bullpen trying to keep my eyes open but it only took a day to get used to the time difference but that was great. And then I was there for two days, bus back and then Wednesday here was my first outing.
CPB – How was it pitching for the first time out here at the Nat?
MS – it was amazing. I heard about the fans, I heard about the atmosphere, I could only imagine it. I was curious if I was going to be like nervous or not but it’s great. When I get out there, I tune it out but I could feel the energy and it definitely gets my adrenaline going. I don’t hear anyone saying anything but like I just feel the people, feel the energy, the cheering after a strikeout. It just gets the adrenaline going. It just makes me more confident, honestly, An amazing feeling being out there. And every time I go out there, I don’t take it for granted for sure.
CPB – Your four-inning outing. It was a crazy day, a doubleheader day and a comeback victory. You did your job to keep Tri-City down and allow the team to come back. How were you feeling out there on the mound?
MS – I was feeling great because we had the rain out so I got an extra day. I was going to go the day before I got an extra day of rest. The body was feeling good, feeling 100 percent. Going out there, I didn’t really know how much I was going. We just speculate sometimes. I was like, ‘Oh two (innings) maybe.’ We’re trying to slot up the innings for relievers. And then after the eighth ,they’re like, “You good for another?’ Like, ‘Oh, okay, this makes sense.’ I go for the ninth. And then after the ninth, I’m pretty gassed. They’re like ‘Hey, you got another one?’ (laughs) You’re like ‘Whatever, I guess. I’ll go out there.’ And again like those late inning situations, I mean with extras, they start a man on second. I’m just like, ‘Alright, how am I going to get you out of this?’ People say it’s the win-win situation. If you give up that run, like, ‘All right guys, it’s going to be second, no out.’ If you don’t, it’s like, ‘It’s amazing.’ So it was definitely exciting, especially when I got that first strike and I go, ‘We could actually do this and stuff.’ And then obviously it’s the first pitch walk off by Sosa (Andrés Sosa). So yeah, I was like, ‘I’ll have to go another inning. Let’s go.” So I was just excited. It was awesome.
CPB – Final question, what are your goals for 2022?
MS – Right now, just stay healthy. That’s my number one goal because I can’t get better if I’m not out there. And then just again, keep trusting my stuff, throw strikes and kind of let the rest happen. Right now I’m just enjoying soaking up every moment and soak up every outing I have because this place is awesome. I love it. I just try to enjoy it as much as I can while I’m here.
- Uniform Numbers – Wore number 34 with Dunedin in 2022 after wearing number 49 with the D-Jays in 2021. Wore number 14 during freshman season with Lehigh University in 2018 before switching to 34 in his final three years.
- Twitter – @mattsvanson
- Instagram – @mattsvanson
Thanks a million to Matt Svanson for agreeing to the chat and to C’s broadcaster Tyler Zickel for making this episode of C’s Chat happen.