The Prospect with No Position
It’s June 8, 2010. Hofstra University senior baseball standout Matt Prokopowicz is staring at the Day 2 MLB Draft coverage on his laptop, anxiously waiting to see which team would pick him.
He’s trying to treat it as just an ordinary day. He’s busy watching movies with his best friend Joe Trainor, with his laptop virtually in the background.
It’s the start of the eighth round, and Prokopowicz is getting excited since the New York Mets had told him they’d select him anywhere from the ninth-11th rounds.
About 10 minutes later, it’s the 12th round, but Prokopowicz remains hopeful that his pick will come shortly. Next thing he knows, it’s the 20th round, and he starts recognizing that players he’d played with or against are all being drafted. The 50th and final round passes with Prokopowicz’s name never being called.
How could this have happened? Prokopowicz had been a Long Island baseball god his entire life. Professional scouts had told him, “Don’t change anything” about his sweet swing, which he modeled after the great Ken Griffey, Jr., by playing wiffle ball in his backyard as a kid.
As a 12-year-old in 2000, the Massapequa native crushed four home runs on five swings during the Home Run Derby at the Cooperstown Dreams Park. He starred at Massapequa High School, where he played on the varsity team as a freshman.
At Hofstra, Prokopowicz finished as the school’s all-time hits leader (271) and had the makings of a professional prospect.
“He’s one of those players that just come out of the womb and hits,” says Patrick Anderson, Hofstra University head baseball coach.
Prokopowicz loved the feeling of being in the batter’s box, especially with the game on the line. His confidence allowed him to come through in clutch situations.
“No matter who was on the mound, how hard he threw or where he was going to school, I knew I was going to get a hit every time,” says Prokopowicz.
The only exception to this mantra occurred the one time he stepped into the box against a tall right-handed pitcher from San Diego State University who threw 102 mph fastballs. That kid’s name: Stephen Strasburg. Later Strasburg was drafted No. 1 overall by the Washington Nationals in 2009. He received the largest-ever contract for a draftee at $15.1 million over four years, including a $7.5 million signing bonus. He also made the cover of Sports Illustrated before even throwing a professional pitch.
Prokopowicz had all the tools scouts were looking for: size, strength, makeup and a picture-perfect swing. But he lacked one thing that’s very important in the game of baseball: a position.
He played third base for Hofstra his first three years, but his power numbers did not fit the mold of a typical third baseman. He saw time at second base his senior year, but he did not possess the speed of a true second baseman.
Coach Anderson experimented with putting Prokopowicz behind the plate as a catcher as well. He had the arm strength and quickness to catch but lacked the refined skills that scouts desired.
Even without a natural position, Prokopowicz was convinced that his hitting ability would carry him through the minors and eventually to the Major Leagues.
“I always heard this expression: ‘If you hit, you’ll find a spot in the lineup,’” he says.
But after 50 rounds of the draft and the subsequent signing period, Prokopowicz’s baseball career was over before it began. He joined the scores of Long Island baseball players whose dreams of playing professionally fell by the wayside. But it seemed that Prokopowicz had been dealt an unfair hand.
“He was one of the better hitting kids that I’ve seen,” says Izzo, who scouted Prokopowicz. “There’s no doubt in my mind—no doubt—that this kid could have played professional baseball.”
“We all certainly wish that Matt would have had the chance,” says his high school coach Tom Sheedy. “I think that’s what any athlete ever wants.”
After the draft, he fielded several offers to play for independent league teams, but not getting drafted by an MLB team crushed his playing spirit. Although he decided to forgo a playing career, Prokopowicz knew that he still had some sort of future in baseball.
“I’ve been around the game for so long that it’s a part of my life,” says Prokopowicz. “As long as baseball is here, I’m going to be here.”
He began coaching for the Long Island Nationals—a summer travel team based out of Westbury and one of many baseball programs on the Island. Through this experience, Bob Malandro—the head varsity baseball coach at Holy Trinity High School in Hicksville—offered him a job to join his staff as an assistant.
As a coach, Prokopowicz is able to relay his vast knowledge to his players. The young men have responded well to his teachings, since not too long ago he was in their shoes.
Not only is Prokopowicz determined to stay involved in baseball through coaching, but he also said he’d like to someday earn a Master’s degree so he can coach at the college level.
Looking back, Prokopowicz says he has no regrets about a playing career that could have been. “I really do think that not getting drafted might have been good for me because I really do enjoy coaching,” he admits.
“He’s found a direction around baseball,” says Shortt. “He’s a prospect as a person.”