Cutters notebook: Vierling made pro debut

MARK NANCE/Sun-Gazette Williamsport’s Matt Vierling (28) is safe on a steal at second base in the fourth inning against Auburn on Monday at Bowman Field.

Hitting in Citizens Bank Park was Matt Vierling’s opportunity to prove what he’s capable of in front of a Major League audience. In a workout with the Philadelphia Phillies prior to the MLB Draft, the Notre Dame product hit a few home runs during batting practice at the Phillies’ stadium and proved to the team’s front office he could play at the professional level.

Not too much later, the Phillies made Vierling their fifth-round pick in the draft. He made his professional debut Sunday night for the Williamsport Crosscutters, going 1 for 3 with a stolen base and a walk.

“I felt great about what I did there,” Vierling said after Crosscutters batting practice Monday. “I did what I set out to do, which was prove to them that I could showcase myself in a good way. I knew they liked me a lot. You don’t know who is going to draft you, but I knew they were interested.”

Vierling has been mentioned in the same breath as Phillies first-round draft pick Alec Bohm as an advanced college bat with the potential to move through the Phillies’ system quickly. Amateur scouting director said exactly those words to the assembled Phillies media when he made Vierling the Phillies’ selection in the fifth round.

He was a career .298 hitter in three years at Notre Dame with an on-base percentage of .398 as a sophomore and .402 as a junior this year. But he slid on some draft boards after struggling last summer in the Cape Cod League with the Harwich Mariners.

So it was in the personal workout at Citizens Bank Park where he put concerns to rest.

“He had a tremendous workout,” Almaraz said in an article on Philly.com. “He checked all the boxes as far as us liking him in that spot and believing he’s a prospect for us.”

Vierling heard the comments following his summer in the Cape of people wondering if he was struggling because of the switch to wood bats. It was a criticism he never quite understood because he said he had been hitting with wood bats since he was about 14 years old.

“I never even thought about that being an issue. I heard some people saying it, but (wood bats) never bothered me,” Vierling said. “I think in the Cape I put too much pressure on myself and listened to other people and their expectations instead of my own goals.”

What that summer in the Cape did for Vierling was teach him how to deal with adversity. He struggled out of the box this spring with Notre Dame, but understood how to relax and overcome the adversity.

He was able to take a step back and realized he was probably putting too much pressure on himself knowing he was likely to be drafted come June. Once Vierling re-assessed his season, he finished strong and ended up hitting .298 for the Fighting Irish.

“I wish I would have played a little better and hit better (in the Cape), but I didn’t. It was a learning experience for me,” Vierling said. “It’s almost like a pro-style atmosphere. I learned a lot of stuff there. But it’s a great place to be with a great environment and great coaches. I thought I came out of it learning the right things and it helped me prepare when I had struggles.”

Williamsport manager Pat Borders wasted no time getting Vierling involved with the team when he showed up for Sunday’s game, plugging him into the third spot in the lineup with the fourth-lowest batting average in the New York-Penn League.

He singled in the ninth inning and stole second base Sunday, giving the Cutters an opportunity to win a scoreless game, but he was stranded there before Williamsport ended up losing to State College, 2-0.

For Vierling, he’s just happy to be back playing baseball again. He’s enjoyed the travel which has come with starting his professional career. He enjoyed the trip to Florida for a mini-camp for all the Phillies’ newest draftees. But Vierling has always been a baseball player and he’s happy to get back to doing just that.

“It’s a process getting into pro ball and eventually being a Major League Baseball player,” Vierling said. “It’s just another part of the process and I’m sure there’s going to be some ups and downs and everything in between.”