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Valley alum Foster makes name in MLB

On Aug. 1, Valley native Matt Foster walked onto the mound at Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City in the bottom of the fifth inning.

On the second pitch of his professional career, Foster gave up a single, then proceeded to sit down the next three batters to retire the side. He also picked up a strikeout, as he got Ryan McBroom to chase a high fastball that registered 93 MPH on the radar.

Since making his debut, Foster has been one of the Chicago White Sox’s best arms out of the bullpen, as he has 17 strikeouts and no earned runs allowed in his first 13 ⅓ innings to start his MLB career.

Roughly seven years earlier, Foster was a major factor for the Valley Rams both behind the plate and on the mound.

Valley

In his time at Valley, Foster was a rare breed, as he was both the ace of the staff but also was a solid catcher. Playing in both roles helped develop his game especially as a pitcher, as he was able to see the game from a different angle.

“It helped a good bit,” Foster said. “I developed my arm action from catching. I definitely think it helped. You get to see both sides of the game. You’re in control of the game while pitching, but at the same time, you’re in control of the game catching because you have eyes all over the field. You’re calling pitches, seeing what the hitters are doing.”

In his final year as a Ram, Foster started 10 of his 12 appearances, throwing 65 innings in those 12  games. He had a .96 ERA and struck out 115 batters, earning both All-Area and All-State honors as a pitcher. As a hitter, he hit .352 with 27 RBIs, earning both All-Area and All-State honors.

In his final start as a Ram, Foster struck out 21 batters in a game that Valley would lose 2-1.

“It was a tough game,” Foster said. “I loved playing with all those guys. I definitely miss those days, but I wouldn’t trade it for where I’m at now.”

At the end of his senior year, Foster was drafted by the Arizona Diamondbacks with the 14th pick of the 29th round (there are 40 rounds in the MLB draft).

“It was definitely an experience, but I think I made the right choice,” Foster said. “High school and college are big steps apart from each other and definitely high school to professional baseball is a huge jump. You just have to develop and develop. Going to college helped me develop more and learn more as a pitcher, especially with the pitcher and catcher relationships.”

Foster’s next choice was to decide between going to a four-year college or attend a junior college. His final decision came down to Alabama and Gulf Coast State College.

College

Foster decided to attend Gulf Coast State College, a junior college in Panama City, Florida.

“The Panhandle [Conference] is such a good area for baseball, and I think it definitely goes unnoticed,” Foster said. “I definitely loved it down there.”

In baseball, a player can attend a JUCO and be drafted either after his freshman or sophomore seasons. They can then transfer to a four-year college and be draft-eligible for both their junior and senior seasons as well. At a four-year college, a player must wait until his junior year to be drafted, which was one of the big drawing points for Foster.

In his first year at Gulf Coast, Foster wasn’t as effective as he planned going in. He started a couple of games and then felt a twinge in his throwing shoulder.

“I don’t think my body was ready for the type of workload it was going to require,” Foster said. “I was still developing my body to get used to starting twice a week.”

It was diagnosed as shoulder tendonitis, so he was able to avoid surgery after a second opinion, but he was shut down for most of his freshman year.

As a sophomore, Foster dominated the Panhandle Conference and had one of the best single seasons in Gulf Coast history. He made 16 starts, which is tied for first all-time in GCSC history, finishing 11-4 with a 2.04 ERA with five complete games. His 11 wins are tied for the third-most in a single season. He also struck out 111 batters, which is fifth-most in a single season.

At the end of his sophomore season, Foster was named the Panhandle Conference Pitcher of the Year and was one of the top JUCO transfers in 2015.

After two years in the Panhandle, Foster transferred to his dream school in Alabama.

“I grew up a ‘Bama fan. My mom and her side of the family are all super big Alabama fans. My dad is one of the lone Auburn fans in our family, but I love ‘Bama and my mind wasn’t going to change,” Foster said. “I might have been at Gulf Coast, but my eyes were set to play at ‘Bama. Luckily for me, that happened.”

When he arrived in Tuscaloosa, Foster was moved to the bullpen. At the start of his junior year, he wasn’t sure where he would find his niche, coming in at various points in games during the fall. By the time Alabama started its season against Maryland in 2016, Foster was set to be in the back of the bullpen, leading up to Thomas Burrows, who is Alabama’s all-time leader in saves.

“It was interesting to come out of the bullpen during a game because I had never done that before,” Foster said. “If it wasn’t for that, I don’t know if I’d be where I’m at right now.”

Foster threw 35 innings while at Alabama, finishing with a 3.34 ERA, 46 strikeouts and a 5-2 record. He also had a pair of saves.

His best two games of the season were against Georgia and Auburn, throwing 7 ⅓ innings with 13 strikeouts with only three hits combined in the two outings.

After Alabama was eliminated in the SEC Tournament, Foster once again set his eyes to the draft.

Playing professionally

Foster was drafted by the White Sox in the 20th round of the 2016 MLB Draft. This time, he decided to sign.

“The draft process is always a nerve-wracking thing,” Foster said. “I had gone through it a couple of times, I was still nervous because you don’t know who is going to take you. It ended up being the Sox. It was kind of ironic because I met with a bunch of teams but I never met with the Sox. If it wasn’t for Warren Hughs, I wouldn’t be where I am today.”

Foster joined the White Sox organization in the summer of 2016, starting in Rookie ball.

In 2017, after missing time with a family issue, Foster was promoted to A ball and was promoted to High A ball, where he finished the 2017 season. By the middle of 2018, Foster was playing in Birmingham for the White Sox’s AA team.

The adjustment to playing a full professional season and making the jump to AA was tough, and Foster struggled for seemingly the first time in his professional career, but still finished with a 3.30 ERA and 70 strikeouts in 60 innings.

“That’s when you really have to learn how to pitch,” Foster said. “Some of the guys you’re facing have been in the big leagues. They have really good eyes at the plate, and you just have to learn how to pitch and locate.”

Foster finished 2018 in AA. In 2019, he made adjustments and was promoted to AAA, finishing with a 3.20 ERA in 64 ⅔ innings pitched.

In 2020, he was made the White Sox’s Spring Training roster, and after the pandemic delayed the start of the season, made his major league debut.