By Jim Lane
CURVE, Pa. – Standing 6-foot-3 and weighing 280 pounds, Curve pitcher Matt Eckelman looks more like an NFL player than a professional baseball player.
But, after joining the Curve bullpen late last June and recording 11 saves in the Eastern League in 2018, Eckelman could eventually find himself in the major leagues as a late-inning relief pitcher.
Born in Kansas City, Eckelman attended Saint Louis University and has lived most of his life in that area. He still calls Shawnee, Kansas, home.
“I played a little football and basketball in high school,” Eckelman recalled recently at Peoples Natural Gas Field. “I was thinking about going to college for football, but it didn’t work out. I thought baseball would be a little better route for me.”
Why Saint Louis University, which has been noted for some fine basketball programs over the years?
“Basically, they were the only school that gave me
any kind of scholarship,” Eckelman said, without hesitation.
The big right-hander had a solid career at Saint Louis, earning All-Atlantic 10 Conference honors three times. He made the All-Rookie team as a freshman, then first team as a sophomore and second team as a senior in 2016.
Eckelman finished his college career with 24 wins and a 2.56 ERA, each second best in Billikens’ career history. He also had 13 career saves, third best all-time in school history, and went 9-4 (the school’s single season for wins) with a 3.12 ERA in 15 starts as a senior.
Drafted by the Pirates in the 21st round, Eckelman signed in June and was sent to Bristol in the Rookie League where he went 5-3 with a 2.76 ERA in 11 starts.
“I was starter my first year (2016 Bristol) and a reliever since,” he noted. “I also made a couple starts in 2017 (with West Virginia Power), but I’ve mostly been a reliever since. Now, I’m definitely a reliever.
“Being a reliever is probably the best option for me,” he offered. “That’s what they ask me to do and I’ll do it for them.”
Eckelman started 2018 at (high-A) Bradenton, went 4-0 with six saves and a 2.28 ERA to earn Florida State League all-star honors before being promoted to Altoona on June 29.
Curve pitching coach Joel Hanrahan was both a starter and reliever during his career, but Eckelman hasn’t talked to him about that.
“I just try to let him do his job, but that would be an interesting conversation to have,” Eckelman said. “When he was an all-star, he was one of the best closers in baseball so it’s a pretty nice asset to have him around here.
“He can definitely teach us a couple of things.”
After appearing in 23 games for the Curve last year (1-1, 1.82), Eckelman was sent to the Arizona Fall League where many top prospects go.
“I’m not sure if I’m much of a prospect,” he said, “but it was definitely cool. The results (0-2, 13.00 ERA) were not what I wanted, but it was pretty cool experience.”
Eckelman is impressed with the Eastern League.
“It’s a quality league with a lot of good teams and prospects,” he said. ‘It’s neat watching guys you play against reach the next level … and, you’re right there, too.”
Only a phone call away.