High School Baseball

Katy High's Matthews ‘special’ on, off field

By Dennis Silva II, Sports Editor
Posted 12/28/20

When he was coaching Katy High’s sophomore baseball team three years ago, Will Handlin saw something special in then-freshman pitcher Caleb Matthews.

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High School Baseball

Katy High's Matthews ‘special’ on, off field

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When he was coaching Katy High’s sophomore baseball team three years ago, Will Handlin saw something special in then-freshman pitcher Caleb Matthews.

“You could tell there was something there,” said Handlin, now in his fifth season as Katy’s varsity pitching coach. “He had one of the best curveballs I had ever seen; it all just hadn’t come together yet. When he finished his freshman year, I told him, ‘Buddy, if you put in the work and continue to get stronger and work on refining everything, the sky is the limit.’”

As a freshman, the right-handed Matthews had the tools, but he didn’t throw a lot of strikes. When he returned for his sophomore season, however, he had refined his mechanics and started attacking the strike zone consistently, enough to get the ball in big games for the Tigers’ varsity.

“He was never satisfied, and that’s what separates Caleb from a lot of kids,” Handlin said. “Kids get some success on the varsity level as a sophomore, and some feel like they’ve arrived. They think they made it. I never saw that once in Caleb. He’s continued to work. The one word I would use to describe him is ‘special.’”

Matthews has done nothing to dissuade Handlin’s high praise since. He is 11-1 over the last two seasons as a Tiger; his 9-1 record as a sophomore tied him for third in program history for most wins in a season.

“When (Katy coach Tom McPherson) gave me the nod for a varsity role as a sophomore, I grew even more confident,” Matthews said. “Earning the first-team all-district award really proved that I could compete with not just my age, but guys that were even two years older than me. That lit a new fire under me to continue to prove that and much more.”

Matthews, who plays the middle infield when he’s not pitching, went 2-0 with a 1.02 earned-run average before COVID-19 abruptly canceled the 2020 high school baseball season. But he continued to work. His velocity jumped from 87 miles per hour to 92 during offseason training and he had a stellar fall season for Katy High with 30 strikeouts in 15 innings.

His improved velocity, off-speed repertoire and penchant for strikeouts earned Matthews a scholarship to play baseball at Rice. Matthews verbally committed to the Owls on Dec. 6, picking them over Harvard and the Naval Academy.

“It’s always been one of my dream schools,” Matthews said. “Getting the opportunity to talk to those coaches (head coach Matt Bragga and assistant coach Cory Barton) and being offered a two-way spot, I just jumped all over it. To compete in the highest level in the classroom and on the field? I couldn’t be happier.”

McPherson and Handlin know the Rice coaches well and gave them a heads-up on their star player during the summertime. Handlin’s relationship with Bragga goes back to when Handlin played at Murray State and Bragga coached at Tennessee Tech. The two schools are Ohio Valley Conference rivals.

“Aside from baseball, Caleb, as a young man, is a first-class human being,” Handlin said. “His parents have done a phenomenal job raising him and steering him on the right path of being a really good, faith-built young man. It’s very easy to sell a program on a young man like Caleb.”

Matthews started training at Performance Edge Houston in July all the way into the late fall. It was there he was showed how to feel and use his body and how to understand how it works.

“In the blink of an eye, I saw consistent jumps in my velocity while maintaining my arm health,” Matthews said. “I’ve always had a pretty fast-twitch arm, but I’m getting into my legs more, and it’s mixing and blending together.”

There was hardly any change in mechanics and motion. But Matthews’s “glute load” and hip torque were different.

Once Matthews started consistently throwing in the mid-90s during fall competition, more colleges started taking more of an interest.

“My mechanics don’t look much different, but it’s what I feel,” Matthews said. “It can’t be seen. It’s what I feel in weight shifts and movements.”

The curveball is Matthews’s money pitch, but he has worked diligently to develop a slider and changeup that are just as dangerous. His fastball that tops out at 92 miles per hour with mesmerizing movement is an effective complement to his off-speed stuff.

“There’s nobody I’ve coached or watched that has had an electric breaking ball like he has,” Handlin said. “He’s got a pure explosiveness and nastiness to his breaking pitches.”

As excited as he is to accomplish his dream of playing the game he loves at an elite academic institution, Matthews is not looking past his senior season.

Before last season was canceled, Katy was on a roll with a 12-3-2 record. Fortunately, a lot of players return from that junior-heavy club.

“I was super excited about last season,” Matthews said. “We felt we were going to make a run and make people remember the 2020 Katy Tigers. Getting cut short was heartbreaking. This year, everyone has a fire lit in them. Instead of the 2020 Tigers, people will remember the 2021 Tigers. Everyone’s super pumped and wants to prove what we can do.”

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