Baseball – San Francisco Giants Take a Shot on Freehold Township’s Liam Simon in MLB Draft
Liam Simon's golden arm earned him a chance to play college baseball at Notre Dame and on Day 2 of the Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft on Monday, the Freehold Township kid with the golden arm is on a path from the Golden Dome to the Golden State.
The San Francisco Giants selected Simon with the final pick of the fifth round -- No. 166 overall -- on Monday, making him the third of four Shore Conference alumni selected during Monday's Draft festivities.
"Those five, ten minutes were pretty hectic," Simon said. "Fortunately, my advisor (Ben Simon, no relation), took care of pretty much everything. As the time came, I was on the phone and I pretty much didn't have time to talk to anybody else, so I had to make some decisions on my own. In the end, I was really happy to be selected by the Giants. They do a really good job developing pitchers and I'm excited to get to work with the coaches and development team."
Simon earned notoriety among scouts and MLB clubs for his exceptional velocity, which has been clocked as high as 101 miles-per-hour, according to multiple published reports. Simon has more routinely sat at 96-to-98 with his fastball and 93-to-96 when he has started, but the top-end arm strength made him an enticing prospect -- one the Giants decided to add to their organization early on during Day 2 of the Draft.
As impressed as college coaches and scouts have been by Simon's arm going back to his days at Freehold Township, they have been waiting for the on-field performance to reflect it and at the end of the 2022, it finally did. Simon threw back-to-back appearances -- one a start and one a three-inning relief outing -- in which he struck out 16 batters in eight scoreless innings.
"The biggest thing for me is getting innings," Simon said. "I entered high school primarily as a shortstop and it took a little while to get comfortable once I knew I was going to be a pitcher going forward. In the past year or so, I have finally started to get comfortable with my delivery -- enough to know what it feels like when I'm on time and what it feels like when I'm a little bit off.
"It's mostly a tempo thing. Getting more innings under my belt has been huge. Getting those midweek starts during the season, then in the postseason made a huge difference."
Those games were Notre Dame wins in the ACC Tournament quarterfinals and the NCAA Regionals, so when the intensity of the game picked up, Simon showed he could tap into the best version of himself and Notre Dame followed. The Irish made it to the College World Series after knocking off Tennessee -- the No. 1 team in the country -- in the Super Regionals.
"I was really lucky to be a part of these last three years at Notre Dame," Simon said. "To go to the Super Regionals last year and the College World Series this past year -- obviously we would have liked to win it all at least once, but those are experiences you never want to take for granted. I'm just glad the guys who were in the program for four and five years got to experience this year's run."
All told, Simon finished his 2022 season with the Irish posting a 4.99 ERA in 30 2/3 innings, which included 56 strikeouts and 28 walks. Nearly half (seven) of Simon's 16 appearances were starts, so while the expectation among most scouts is for Simon to end up in the bullpen, starting is not out of the question for Simon, who works with a slider and a changeup to go with his powerful fastball.
"The Giants haven't told me whether they want me to be a starter or reliever yet, but I completely trust their judgement," Simon said. "I made it pretty clear to all the teams I talked to during the interview process that I really want a chance to start and I feel like that's when I'm at my best, but whatever the team wants my role to be, I'll be ready to do it."
Simon's 2022 was a follow-up to a 2021 campaign in which he logged a 3.20 ERA with 33 strikeouts and 24 walks in 25 innings.
In his final season at Freehold Township in 2019, Simon went 2-3 with a 3.78 ERA in 29 2/3 innings with 45 strikeouts and 34 walks.
In selecting Simon, the Giants are betting their player development program will help Simon shed some of the control issues that have followed him since his high-school days. San Francisco is quickly developing a reputation for successfully helping rejuvenate pitchers -- a list that includes former Colts Neck star Anthony DeSclafani.
After struggling with injury and performance in his final season with the Cincinnati Reds, DeSclafani signed a one-year contract with the Giants in 2021 and turned in a career season. DeSclafani parlayed that success into a 3-year, $36 million extension with the Giants, although he is currently on the injured list.
The Giants have also developed young pitching under the current front-office regime, led by Farhan Zaidi. Logan Webb was a fourth-round selection out of high school in 2014 and has been a breakout performer at the top of the Giants rotation over the past two seasons after breaking into the Major Leagues in 2019.
The blueprint for Simon's development, however, might be closer Camilo Doval. After signing out of the Domican Republic, Doval matriculated through the minor leagues with big velocity, big strikeout numbers and high walk totals. Upon being promoted to the big-league club at the end of 2021, however, Doval made significant strides throwing strikes while not sacrificing his stuff. Boasting an average fastball of 99 miles-per-hour, Doval sports a walks-per-nine-inning average of 3.51 in the Majors over the past two seasons after that number was 7.04 in Triple-A just a year ago. The 2022 Major League average is 3.16 walks-per-nine and 3.49 for relievers.
Simon has the kind of raw ability that is worthy of comparing to that of Doval and the Giants have an idea about what to do to help Simon both develop his arsenal while also harnessing it.
"I was going through this draft and some of the guys they took this year and in past years have a very similar profile as me: hard-throwers with good stuff who need a little refining," Simon said. "It's good to see that they can take us, come up with a plan and get us ready to pitch on the biggest stage possible. I can't wait to get our there and get to work with them."
If Simon can climb his way onto a Major League roster, he will be the second Freehold Township graduate to pitch in the Big Leagues this decade, joining veteran right-handed reliever and former Monmouth University standout Brad Brach.
He also went through the Draft process with Notre Dame teammate teammate Jack Brannigan and friend Trey Dombroski, who also graduated from high school in 2019. Brannigan was selected in the third round with the 83rd overall pick by the Pittsburgh Pirates and Dombroski went 133rd overall to the Houston Astros.
"The last couple of months have been pretty crazy," Simon said. "To go from a guy that really didn't play much, to pitching in winner-take-all games to getting drafted along with two guys I'm good friends with. It can't get much better."