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Under the Radar: Matt Foster

Yet another closer option who’s knocking on the door

Breezin’: Foster moved quickly through Winston-Salem, but has struggled a bit so far with Birmingham.
Robert Hill | Winston-Salem Dash

Under the Radar details players in the Chicago White Sox system who may have suffered setbacks, gotten lost in the shuffle, or just haven’t surfaced as significant prospects as of yet. Next up is Matt Foster, who has provided impressive results since being drafted in the 20th round of the 2016 MLB Draft.

Matt Foster (RHRP) Birmingham Barons

Foster, a resident of the eastern Alabama community of Valley, has been quite the reliable workhorse since his varsity days. As a senior for Valley High, he logged 65 13 innings with an ERA of 0.96 and an impressive 115 strikeouts (an amazing 15.84 K/9); he finished with a bang by striking out 21 hitters in his final outing.

These results prompted the Arizona Diamondbacks to draft him in the 29th round in 2013, but he opted for collegiate ball instead. As a two-year starter for Gulf State JC in Panama City, Fla., Foster combined for a 2.06 ERA and 1.05 WHIP over a total of 144 13 innings, allowing just 114 hits and 38 walks compared to 157 strikeouts. Foster, considered one of the top JUCO transfers in the nation, stayed close to home and transferred to the Alabama Crimson Tide. He adjusted well there as a reliever, where he enjoyed a 2.93 ERA and 1.23 WHIP over 40 innings. surrendering just 33 hits and 16 walks while striking out 49. These results let to the White Sox drafting him in the 2016 MLB Draft’s 20th round.

What Foster achieved in his first year in professional ball (2016) was amazing. With the AZL White Sox and Great Falls, he combined for an incredible 0.61 ERA and 0.64 WHIP over the course of 22 games (29 23 IP); during that time, he allowed just 12 hits (.121 OBA) and seven walks (6.4 BB%) while striking out 49 (37.6 K%). He was also 11-for-11 in save opportunities that year.

After a brief, self-imposed retirement, Foster began the 2017 campaign in June with Kannapolis and finished with Winston-Salem. Again, he dominated, with a combined ERA of 1.30 and WHIP of 0.76; during his 27 23 innings, he allowed just 16 hits (.168 OBA) and five walks (4.9 BB%) while punching out 33 hitters (32.04 K%).

Foster returned to Winston-Salem to begin 2018, where he continued to excel, to the tune of a 2.57 ERA and 1.14 WHIP; he saved seven games in his 28 innings for the Dash and allowed just 25 hits (.250 OBA) and seven walks (6.4 BB%) while striking out 40 hitters (36.4 K%).

With all boxes checked, Foster was promoted on June 21 to Birmingham, where he’s encountered his first significant difficulties to date. Thus far in 22 outings with the Barons, he’s seen his ERA and WHIP increase to 4.20 and 1.47, respectively, in his 30 innings of work. He’s ceded 31 hits (.265 OBA) and 13 walks (10.0 BB%) while striking out just 29 hitters (22.3 K%) during his return to his home state. Foster has uncharacteristically fallen behind hitters in Birmingham, which has not only led to an increase in walks but also led to more hitter-friendly counts.

The six-foot, 195-pound Foster has an impressive repertoire. In addition to a fastball that runs up to 95 mph, he throws a sharp slider which runs 82-85, a cutter which runs 90-93, and a respectable 80-83 changeup. Foster’s command and control have been outstanding throughout his career, so it’s possible that he may be just simply going through a mini-slump right now. He also may be battling a little fatigue, because he’s already more than doubled last year’s inning total. Throughout Foster’s minor league career, he’s actually fared better against lefties than righties, which speaks to the quality of his changeup (which is reminiscent of former White Sox closer Keith Foulke).

Foster is 23, and it’s possible he could return to Birmingham to begin 2019. If so, I would expect him to be promoted to Charlotte early in the season if all goes well. He has a high ceiling of closer, but his floor would still be a respectable seventh- or eighth-inning reliever because of his control and ability to miss bats. I have no problem envisioning him as part of the bullpen plethora the White Sox are amassing.

It will be interesting to see where Foster will be in a couple years, competing against other right-handed options like Ian Hamilton, Ryan Burr, Jose Ruiz, Tyler Johnson, Carson Fulmer and Thyago Vieira.