PASCO, Wash. — “He’s a baseball player. He doesn’t have over-the-top tools, but he uses what he has and that defines a good baseball player,” said Dust Devils manager Mike McCoy on outfielder Matt Acosta, the Padres’ 12th round draft pick out of the University of Southern California in June.
At USC, Acosta, 21, was known for his stellar defense, making the Pac-12 All-Defensive team while slashing a career-best .307/.411/.454 in his junior year.
He got off to a hot start with Tri-City, hitting .288/.384/.344 in the first half. But the left-handed hitter has slumped to a .191/.273/.309 line in the second half as college players, who have been playing since February, often do.
Heading into the draft, Baseball America reported that “none of Acosta’s individual tools jump off the page, but his overall package is attractive as a lefthanded-hitting center fielder with power.”
Acosta has seen most of his time so far as a professional in right field and profiles more as a corner outfielder going forward.
On our recent trip to see the Dust Devils, we caught up the Chino Hills, California native to talk about his transition to the pros.
MadFriars: What has been the biggest change from playing in the Pac-12 to playing in the Northwest League?
Matthew Acosta: Just getting used to playing every day, in a way it is like playing summer ball. Not having as many off days has been one of the bigger transitions, so you have to learn how to prepare your body for the grind.
How has the level of competition been compared to college?
Matthew Acosta: It’s pretty good. At USC, we played a pretty good level, so it may have been a little easier move for me just because of the competition level I played at in college.
You had a pretty strong commitment to go to become a Trojan out of high school. Was going pro even a consideration for you out of high school?
Matthew Acosta: It was, but more as a pitcher. I went to college, hoping to do both. However, when I went to school, it was mainly just outfield. Luckily, I got drafted and got to continue playing.
Was pitching something you liked more or playing the field?
Matthew Acosta: I loved both. Striking out someone is a good feeling; hitting a home run is a good feeling, and making a diving catch is a good feeling.
You could have been the next Shohei Otani if given a chance.
Matthew Acosta: [laughs] That would have been awesome, but I am loving what I am doing now.
You had a much better year offensively as a junior. What was the big change from your sophomore year?
Matthew Acosta: I had a decent year my sophomore year, and I thought it would have been better if it wasn’t cut short by an injury. My mindset was different. After I came back, I wanted to get after it.
I went to the Northwoods Summer League and just tried to get after it every single day. You have your good days and your bad days, but you keep moving forward.
Defensively, you have played all over the outfield. Where do you feel the most comfortable?
Matthew Acosta: I am most comfortable in center, but I’m fine in right. I need to work more in left. As long as I’m out there, I’m fine.
Are you most comfortable in center because it is the easiest place to see the ball?
Matthew Acosta: The reads there are a lot easier, you have to get the good jumps on the ball
When you are playing every day here as compared to college, you can sit out a game or two and have about three or four days to correct a problem. Now, you have to work on getting better before the games.
How big of an adjustment is it?
Matthew Acosta: It is, but I have always tried to get better at every workout. We have hitting coaches who go into swing reviews before every game.
Right now my swing is going good, so it’s just minor tweaks and about pitch selection.
When I looked at the numbers, your on-base percentage went up in college in your junior year. Any reason for that?
Matthew Acosta: The first two years, I didn’t have the glasses I wear now. It’s a little easier to see offspeed pitches.
You haven’t had a huge adjustment with the wooden bat.
Matthew Acosta: Honestly, you can put anything in my hands, and as long as I have a good approach and swing at good pitches, I’ll be all right.