Featured image courtesy of the Portland Sea Dogs official Twitter page (@PortlandSeaDogs)
One of the more pleasant surprises for the 2018 Portland Sea Dogs has been the emergence of 25-year old pitcher Matthew Kent. Kent first joined the Boston Red Sox as a 13th round draft pick and has advanced all the way to AA Portland in his fourth minor league season. The young lefty is in the midst of the best season of his career and has performed well enough to earn a spot on the Eastern League All-Star team.
Red Sox Unfiltered recently had the opportunity to conduct a phone interview with Kent. Thanks to his breakout season, Kent is starting to appear on more and more radars. If he continues this career path, he could easily be a member of the Boston Red Sox by late 2019 or 2020.
An Interview with Portland Sea Dogs All-Star Matthew Kent
On Being Selected to the All-Star Game
“It’s an honor and a privilege, but it’s also a reward,” Kent said on being selected to the Eastern League All-Star team. Kent is one of three members of the Sea Dogs to earn the honor, and he credits his success to the work in the off-season.
“It’s the off-season, it’s spring training…” Kent continued, noting that the in-game results are borne from a consistent devotion to improving not only physically, but mentally.
On the Type of Pitcher He is
When asked which pitch was his best, Kent didn’t choose one in particular. Rather, he took pride in his multiple ways to get batters out. Specifically, Kent credited the depth of his changeup and movement of his slider for his ability to induce weak contact and swing-and-misses. “Knowing how to use pitches in different ways is what I do,” Kent said, noting that his best pitch often varies from game to game.
Kent credits a portion of his success to his varying arm slot. He’s capable of throwing all three of his pitches from an over-the-top release point and a side release. Kent added that he goes to his side release as a way to attack and surprise hitters on two-strike counts.
Kent currently owns 77 strikeouts in 77.1 innings pitches, basically one per inning. However, despite the high strikeout rate, Kent views himself as a contact pitcher. “I’m definitely more of a contact pitcher…but I can get swings and misses.” Kent says that his strikeout rate is due to his comfort in knowing what he wants to do to every hitter he faces. His goal during every at-bat is to “mess with the hitters timing and get weak contact.”
On Starting Versus Relieving
Throughout 2018, the Portland Sea Dogs have used Kent as both a starter and a reliever, to basically the same level of success. Asked if he had a preference between the two roles, Kent said that he prefers starting because he can “take lead and set the tone” in the game.
However, Kent is anything but picky with his role. While he prefers life in the starting rotation, he’s happy every time he gets to enter a game. “Just being on the mound is where I want to be,” Kent said.
With his recent success, I asked Kent if anyone within the Red Sox organization had discussed how they plan to use him in the future. Kent responded that he hadn’t heard anything, but he liked it that way. In order to succeed in professional sports, Kent says “you need to stay in the moment.” He also added that if you look too far ahead, “you lose sight of what’s going to happen.” His strategy is to take things one game at a time, and “recognize, execute, and let everything else play out.”
On the Increased Talent in AA
The jump from A ball to AA has been described by many as one of the toughest adjustments for any young ballplayer to make. The level of competition increases tenfold, and many promising stars have struggled to take the next leap. Kent, however, has thrived in his first year with Portland.
“It’s a different level…you definitely see a rise in talent,” Kent noted. However, he credits his career season to changes he made, specifically his approach to pitching.
In the past, Kent said he struggled when down in the count. Trying to get back into a favorable count, Kent left hittable pitches over the plate. In 2018, he’s stopped doing that. “I can allow the guy to walk,” Kent said, noting that “not giving into the hitters” is one of the biggest reasons for his newfound success.
On the Highs and Lows of His Career
As a 13th round pick, expectations weren’t that high for Kent entering his first season with the short-season Lowell Spinners. However, Kent impressed in his bullpen role, posting a 1.86 ERA in 48.1 innings pitched. While he wasn’t as successful in 2016, he still finished with a 3.54 ERA between Lowell and Greenville. However, with High A Salem in 2017, Kent struggled to the tune of a 4.23 ERA in 164 innings.
Kent credits most of his success – and his struggles – to his initial mentality coming out of college. “I let myself ride [the] high” of being drafted, and he didn’t have the smartest pitching strategy. Saying that he constantly tried to “attack, attack, attack the hitters”, Kent’s aggressiveness worked against the lower competition of Lowell.
However, that same aggression didn’t work as he climbed the ranks of the farm system. “Hitters made adjustments, I didn’t.” Kent compared his struggles against the more talented hitters to sinking in quicksand: “the harder I fight it, the faster I sink.”
Following the 2017 season, Kent focused on becoming a more cerebral pitcher. Saying “don’t fight the quicksand, go with it,” Kent spent the off-season making his own adjustments. Instead of attacking every batter he faces, he now approaches each plate appearance with a clear plan on how to get the batter out. He’s mixing his pitches more and tries to keep the batters guessing as much as possible.
Kent will be pitching the Eastern League All-Star Game, which takes place on Wednesday, July 11th. He will be joined by teammates Josh Ockimey and Kyle Hart. Ken is one of several underrated members of the Portland Sea Dogs.