Cerda, who turns 18 later this month and was the second youngest player drafted by Chicago this year, spent four years at Oceanside (Calif.) High School, primarily as a shortstop. Now the Cubs say they are looking to move Cerda behind the plate.
Cerda’s response: bring it on.
“At a pre-draft workout, they had me catch a little bit,” said Cerda. “The last time I caught was actually when I was 11 years old, but I think I can make it work.”
Cubs Scouting Director Tim Wilken said Cerda has the right ingredients.
“He’s got a plus arm. He’s got good feet and we got him behind the plate in a workout just a little while ago,” Wilken said. “We love his athleticism and his agility.”
With the bat, the left-handed hitting Cerda (listed as 5-foot-10, 170 pounds) batted .542 in 33 games this season. He hit safely in all but one game, ending the year with a 26-game hitting streak. Wilken described Cerda as a patient hitter.
“He lets the ball travel well, and in some of those showcase games like the one in Compton, he hit a lot of the better pitchers well and he hit velocity pretty good,” Wilken said of Cerda, who drew 29 walks this season to six strikeouts.
“This guy is not a singles hitter. He’s more of a gap hitter,” Wilken added.
Cerda also showed some power in his final prep season this year by cracking 16 home runs. Pirates coach Dave Barrett said that was the result of Cerda maturing.
“Coming into the season, he was more of a gap to gap guy,” recalled Barrett. “Playing in San Diego County, one of the most competitive counties in Southern California, I had scouts tell me they thought he was the best player in Southern California. He set our school record in home runs, RBIs and batting average. He matured and I’ve never seen a hitter square up more balls harder than Matt did this year.”
“He has surprising power, and I think it’s a tool that is a product of having a good, short swing,” said Barrett. “He’s got excellent gap to gap power, and again I think that’s something that as he matures -- I mean, we’ve seen it this year. As he matured and got bigger and stronger and more consistent, he squared a lot of balls off.”
Prior to his prep success at Oceanside, Cerda stepped onto the national spotlight with Oceanside’s Little League All-Star Team in the 2001 Little League World Series.
Since then, he has worked out with former major league outfielder David Justice in Poway, Calif., signed a letter of intent to play college baseball for the University of San Diego, and most recently became the first high school player drafted by the Chicago Cubs, who Cerda says was after him from the moment they first saw him.
“They were one of the first teams that were after me,” said Cerda. “I played in the North/South All-Star Game last June and that’s when they first saw me.”
Barrett called Cerda “the best player I’ve ever been around.”
“If he were 6-foot-2, he’d probably have been a first-round pick,” said Barrett. “He’s got like eight percent body fat. He’s a very compact, athletic kid with great baseball instincts, a great swing, and he is a great offensive player.”
Cerda will graduate from Oceanside on June 13 and turn 18 a week later on June 20. Barrett said that Cerda still has some growing to do physically, and described him as a player that loves every part of the game.
“He loves the competition, he loves to practice, and he loves the grind of baseball, which is real unusual for a lot of kids,” noted Barrett. “They like the exciting moments, but Matt thrives in the routine of playing the game, and he’s been that way since he was 8 years old. His brother played for us and his dad played for us. They’re a very special family and Matt is a very special young man.”