TUCSON, Ariz. -- It seemed like a terrific opportunity for young Matt Boyd, an intriguing prospect converted from a first baseman in high school to a highly regarded left-handed relief pitcher at Oregon State University.
Boyd, from Mercer Island, Wash., spent his junior season at OSU in 2012 as head coach Pat Casey's top set-up man out of the pen, making a team-high 31 appearances while impressing MLB scouts with his skills after an equally impressive 2011 summer pitching for the USA Baseball Collegiate National Team and later for the Orleans Firebirds in the Cape Cod League.
Sure enough, as the 2012 MLB First-Year Player Draft got under way last June, it seemed only a matter of time before Boyd's name would be called. It didn't happen as soon as many expected, but the Cincinnati Reds finally snagged him in the 13th round and tried to convince the hard-throwing lefty that it was the perfect time to turn pro. Boyd had other ideas.
"It came down to me having one more year to win (an NCAA) national championship," Boyd told Perfect Game while the Beavers were here last weekend for a Pac-12 Conference season-opening three-game series against the defending national champion Arizona Wildcats. "I felt like professional baseball could wait for a year and hopefully that opportunity will be there after this season. These are the guys that I've played here with and it seems like we were so close last year .
"I want to play professional baseball; it was my childhood dream and I grew up wanting to pitch in the King Dome in my backyard (in Seattle) and in Dodger Stadium, but I feel like the opportunity will be there after this year," he said. "Winning a national title with my guys and my team was only going to be here one more year."
Casey has led the Beavers to two Pac-10/12 championships and two NCAA Division I College World Series championships (2006, 2007) in his 18 years at OSU. Eighty-one of his players have been drafted and most of them that were selected after their junior seasons didn't return for a senior campaign. Boyd was an exception.
"Matt has always been a level-headed guy and I think he always had a plan and he could have taken it either way," Casey said last weekend. "He wasn't going to panic, he wasn't going to say 'Hey, 13th round or bust' and was going to say if it works out it works out, and if it doesn't I'm happy here. It didn't work out the way he wanted it to work out for some reason, and obviously we're elated with him coming back.
"Had he went, we would have been happy for him and we would have supported him.We just wanted to make sure it was done on his terms and if he went and that's what he wanted, then go get 'em."
So far in his senior season, the 6-foot-3, 217-pound 2010 graduate of Eastside Catholic High School in Mercer Island has had no reason at all to regret his return for his senior season in sleepy Corvalis, Ore. After holding Arizona to one run on two hits with six strikeouts and one walk in seven innings on Friday night, Boyd stood 4-0 with a 1.59 ERA this season, having allowed 27 hits and only six walks with 31 strikeouts in 34 innings of work.
Most importantly, the No. 5-ranked Beavers swept the three-game series from the U of A and stand 19-1 overall and 3-0 in the Pac-12 heading into this weekend's three-game Pac-12 set against Arizona State in Corvalis.
"I'm very grateful for the start we've had," Boyd said. "Personally, I feel like things have been going pretty well ... and it feels like things are going well as a team. I feel like we still have a long way to go as a team but the results are there and all we can do is keep building on it. I'm just very grateful for the position we're in."
Boyd was just about the same size as he is now as a senior in high school when he was also a primary first baseman. A scouting report from the 2006 Perfect Game National Underclass Showcase in Fort Myers, Fla. -- when Boyd was a sophomore -- addressed his hitting prowess more than any skills he showed on the mound. His fastball registered just 78 mph at the event.
That changed as Boyd matured. He played at the 2007 PG WWBA World Championship in Jupiter, Fla., with PG USA Purple and returned to the scout-laden tournament in 2008 as a member of the Kansas City Royals Scout Team. His fastball had reached 84 mph by 2006 and topped out at 90 mph in 2007.
"The first year I went down there with a few of my high schools teammates and we played on a Perfect Game (Purple) team," Boyd recalled. "The second year I got to play with the Royals Scout Team and all of those guys, it seemed like, were first or second or third-round picks. ... It was cool to kind of pick those guys' brains, and it was a great experience playing against guys that are going to play at the next level. It was one of those things that I was very grateful to have the opportunity to experience."
Boyd's teammates on that Royals Scout Team included minor league base-stealing sensation Billy Hamilton and Louisiana State standout infielder JaCoby Jones.
Boyd wasn't drafted out of high school and honored his commitment to OSU. He was a two-way player as a freshman, appearing in 29 games as a position player and 20 as a pitcher, including two starts. He was named a Louisville Slugger Freshman All-American and All-Pac-10 Honorable Mention after going 7-1 with a 1.90 ERA in 42 2/3 innings on the mound and hitting .264 with six doubles, three home runs and 19 RBI at the plate. He was also a two-way player in the summer of 2010 for the Corvallis Knights in the West Coast Collegiate League.
By the time his sophomore season at OSU rolled around, Boyd was pitcher-only. He appeared in 30 games that spring (2011) -- all in relief -- and went 0-0 with a 1.57 ERA and four saves; the Beavers made their third straight appearance in the NCAA Regionals.
They made their fourth straight appearance last season and finished 40-20 after going 2-2 at the Baton Rouge (La.) Regional with wins over Belmont and Louisiana-Monroe and two losses to host LSU. Boyd pitched 2 1/3 innings of one-hit, three-strikeout relief and collected a save in a 2-1 win over Belmont in the Regionals' first game.
And after all that, after two years of being a two-way guy and three years of pitching primarily out of the bullpen, Casey this year anointed Boyd as his Friday night starter. The promotion wasn't based solely on what Boyd showed from the mound.
"His character is off the charts; he's just a great person," Casey said. "He represents us off the field as well as on the field, and he's a great person and great student. He represents what you want a student-athlete to be."
To Boyd's way of thinking, being the Friday night starter is just one more challenge to confront and conquer.
"It's an adjustment, but at the same time you've got to get guys out; you just have to get them out a few different times in the same game," he said.
He said when he returned to the Cape Cod League this past summer, his focus was working on his stamina and endurance and getting some starts under his belt, so he could be an effective and reliable starter for Casey this spring. He also worked on developing a fourth pitch, the slider, in an effort to make himself all the more unhittable.
"The best experience is game time and that's the way I was raised; no excuses and just going out there and getting after it," Boyd said. "It was two summers where I got the opportunity to grow and compete and at the same time compete and develop and get yourself in position that you're going to better yourself for the next season. I feel like each summer I made jumps and really tried to better myself on the mound."
Casey admitted that Boyd spending the past summer in the Cape proved beneficial.
"During the summer time, the one thing he wanted to do when he went back to the Cape was start, and he proved to everyone that he could start and maintain his endurance," Casey said. "Coach (Nate) Yeskie prepared him to be a starter from the time he got back from the Cape and it's worked out well for him."
But Casey also hedges his bets when it comes to pitchers spending their summers, well, pitching. There has to be a balance.
"For pitchers, I think it's going to get a little less inviting because when you get a guy who throws 90 innings and he goes back to the Cape, he wants to pitch," Casey said. "I think that's something that's going to get a little less attractive as the time goes on."
The Beavers' terrific start to the 2013 season has the rest of the Pac-12 and the rest of the country, for that matter, buzzing. This does look to be Casey's strongest team since those national championship units in 2006 and '07.
"I think we have good experience in places where we should," he said. "I think we have a good blend with young guys and experienced guys and I think last year we had a little bit of taste of what we can be, and we didn't fulfill what we wanted, so hopefully there's a little bit of hunger there."
Oregon State has qualified for 13 NCAA Regionals, four NCAA Super Regionals and three College World Series (2005-07) in its history, and won those national championships in '06 and '07. With their incredible start to the 2013 season, Boyd sees no reason why a deep run can't be accomplished this year.
”At Oregon State, going to the regionals is expected," Boyd said. "Winning the whole thing -- when you look out and you see those titles on the centerfield fence, that's what the goal is. Coming up short of that is not the goal. We've come up short the last three years and I feel with the squad we have selfless guys from top to bottom, guys that are willing to put in the extra effort, guys that are willing to jump to on the grenade, so to speak. We've got grinders, and I feel really good about what we've got this year.
"I've grown as a man and player under coach Casey, coach Yeskie, coach (Pat) Bailey, and all the coaches' tutelage," he continued. "I just feel so blessed for the opportunity to wear the black and orange and to be able come back for my fourth year. I just feel truly blessed, and it was the best decision of my life to come to Oregon State."
There will not be a fifth year, of course. PG identifies Boyd as the 113th overall prospect in June's MLB amateur draft, and if that projection holds it would put him somewhere in the third round. That's definitely an improvement from the 13th round of a year ago and should result in Boyd playing professionally at some level later this year.
"The way I see it, whatever happens, happens, and it's God's will," he said. "Hopefully I'll get that opportunity -- all I need is an opportunity -- and I'm going to make the most of it. I'm sure I'm going to pitch in the big-leagues someday and I'm determined to do it, but this season I'm really at peace with it and I want to win a national title with my guys."