Matheu Nelson has done more than just confirm he’s having one of the best seasons in college baseball in 2021. He is unquestionably hitting for power and fielding at a physically demanding position quite well. And he’s putting together what is one of the best seasons by an FSU hitter in program history.
Why has he been so successful this year? Nelson has a professional mindset, taking care of his body to be ready for the grind of catching.
“He’s a mature kid in regards to what it takes to be at 100 percent every day at a position that will take a lot out of you,” FSU assistant coach Mike Metcalf said. “He’s taking care of his body and in the training room, doing prehab every day. Stretching, icing and ice baths, everything you need to do to make sure your body feels 100% or as close to 100% as it’s going to at this point in the season as a catcher or any position really with the grind that it is.
“That’s the side of it that you don’t know about when they’re in high school, you can project on it a little bit just based on the high school program and the summer program he was a part of and the guys he was around. That’s one of the major difference makers in guys that do and don’t, is what they do when they’re not on the actual baseball field, what they’re doing the rest of the day, in the training room and the weight room on the classroom and in life, how they’re taking care of their bodies and their minds. And it’s been fun to watch and I think it’s a great opportunity for our young guys to learn from it.”
Nelson gets out of his body what he puts in. And his numbers through 30 games are exceptional: Nelson leads the nation with 15 home runs, he leads the ACC with 48 RBI and is second in the league in slugging (.802). His .433 on-base percentage also puts him among the top 15 in the ACC, and Nelson has reached base in 18 of the last 19 games. His game-by-game splits show how productive and consistent he has been, especially in April (with 22 RBI in 11 games) going into a three game series at Georgia Tech beginning Friday at 7:30 p.m. (ACC Network Extra).
The redshirt sophomore is hitting left-handed pitching (.342) and right-handed pitching (.315). He’s also been quite productive with runners in scoring position (.417).
“I’m just getting lucky, putting the ball in the air and the wind is blowing it out,” Nelson said jokingly last weekend. “I’ve played in some windy parks. No, it’s just putting the foot down early, really trusting what it is and trusting the swing.”
Trust, confidence and a good eye at the plate. Nelson’s home run total — he now has five in his last eight games — is also comparable to some of the most productive home run seasons by an FSU hitter. Buster Posey was the last Nole to get to 20 home runs in 2008, with the “old bats,” and Nelson is already three-quarters of the way there.
Among the fastest hitters to 15 home runs in FSU history, via the school’s sports information department:
Jeff Ledbetter made it there in 12 games (before the screen went up in right field at Howser) and finished with 42 home runs
Mike Fuentes (27 games in 1981), concluding with 26
Chris Cawthon (27 games in 1982), finishing with 25
J.D. Drew (32 games in 1997), wrapping up with 31
For the record, Nelson said he’s not at FSU to chase records but to stockpile wins. What makes Nelson good at the plate? Metcalf reflects again on how he has prepared his body as well as his confidence. Nelson is also adapting well to what he is seeing from pitchers, in real time and between at-bats.
“Matt’s able to make adjustments within at-bats not just every four at-bats,” Metcalf said. “I don’t think it’s to a point where you just walk him quite yet. I think guys are trying to do different things and sequences and it’s a mind game. And I think Matt’s showing the ability to slow his down and make those adjustments pitch by pitch.”
Nelson is also handling a pitching staff that has the ACC’s best ERA (3.14), which features a number of true and redshirt freshmen starters. He has also thrown out 10 of 23 runners (43.5 percent) who were trying to steal a base.