Matt Foster is here to stay
Matt Foster's journey to throwing fire out of the White Sox bullpen was anything but usual.
When Foster took the mound August 1, throwing a scoreless inning of relief and notching a win in the process, it marked the end of a long and winding road for the 25-year-old righthander from Valley, Ala.
Foster was selected by the Arizona Diamondbacks in the 29th round of the draft, but opted not to sign. Instead, Foster opted to pitch for Gulf State JC in Florida, where he was a starter for two years. Following his stint at Gulf State, Foster was considered one of the top JUCO recruits in the nation and opted to return home and pitch for the Alabama Crimson Tide.
Foster came out of the bullpen for the Crimson Tide and adjusted very well to his new role. He threw his way to a 2.93 ERA and a 1.23 WHIP over 40 innings at Alabama, surrendering only 33 hits and 16 walks to go against 49 strikeouts. This success led to Foster hearing his name called by the White Sox in the 20th round of the 2016 draft.
Upon arriving in the Sox system in 2016, Foster picked up right where he had left off at Alabama. Foster's numbers were eye-popping during stints with the AZL White Sox and Great Falls, where he combined for a shimmering 0.61 ERA and 0.64 WHIP across 22 appearances. He allowed just 12 hits and seven walks while striking out 49, and was a perfect 11-for-11 in save opportunities.
Following the 2016 season, family troubles forced Foster to put baseball on the back-burner, and he retired. But Foster's retirement didn't last long, and he rejoined the organization in June 2017 in Kannapolis.
The brief layoff did nothing to knock Foster off his path, as he again dazzled out of the bullpen for both Kannapolis and Winston-Salem. Spinning a 1.30 ERA and 0.76 WHIP while punching out 33 more batters in 27 ⅔ innings of work across the two levels.
On June 21, 2018, Foster found his way to Birmingham, and it was there that he faced the first significant struggles of his career. In 32 innings, Foster went 0-4, along with a 3.94 ERA. These struggles led to Foster repeating Double-A to start 2019, but he eventually found his way to Charlotte, where he struck out 62 batters in 55 innings to finish the campaign.
When the team arrived in Arizona for spring training this year, Foster was among the camp invites who had their eyes on a roster spot. Foster was optioned to Charlotte on March 6 but found himself invited to the Schaumburg camp on July 14.
Barely two weeks later, the 6´0´´ fireballer was forcing Sox fans to break out their phones to google who the newest lockdown reliever out of the bullpen was.
Much like he has done at nearly every level in his career, Foster has found immediate success at the big-league level. To date, Foster has punched out 13 of his 26 batters faced over 7 ⅔ innings pitched.
Foster's impressive repertoire has turned heads. A fastball that routinely runs up in the upper-90s is complimented by a devastating changeup that has had hitters swinging at air. So far in his young career, Foster's .120 WOBA has him in the top 6% of the league according to Baseball Savant, and his 50% strikeout rate has him in the top 3%.
Foster has been called fearless by manager Ricky Renteria, and is finding himself in increasingly high-leverage situations. But for Foster, he's just happy to be out there pitching.
“I'm kind of a guy that'll go out there in any situation,” Foster told reporters this week. “If that means going in high pressure, coming in for clean innings, it doesn't matter.”
So what is Foster's long-term outlook on the Sox? Well, his history suggests that can be an effective back-of-the-bullpen option. His changeup and fastball are already good enough for high-level situations, and at only 25 he could still develop a slider to be a perfectly complimentary third offering.
While he has yet to even pitch nine innings at the big-league level, Foster is not arriving without pedigree. His numbers at every level thus far in his career suggest the ability to be a reliable option moving forward.
The bullpen was an area of concern coming into 2020, but Foster looks ready to join a group that includes Aaron Bummer and possibly Codi Heuer as bullpen stalwarts moving forward. Could Foster be the one to headline that group as the closer? His history suggests that is a possibility.
It is not exactly a secret that Alex Colomé is not going to be the long-term option at closer. Fans have called for Bummer, but with the emergence of Heuer and now Foster, the competition for the closer role is up in the air. Foster's experience in the late innings at every other level gives him an edge over Bummer as well.
So is Foster the new heir apparent to the team's closer role? That's yet to be seen, but his history and the start to his major league career give a reason for optimism. His bulldog attitude and willingness to pitch in any situation helps as well.
No one would blame you if you had to look up Foster on August 1, but it appears he's here to stay now. If you haven't yet, its time to start paying attention to Matt Foster.