When Matt Beaird is behind the plate, that sound means the runner likely has barely two seconds to get a hand or foot on the bag. And way more often than not, the runners simply can’t beat that rapidly disappearing clock.
Beaird’s “pop time” — the moment the pitch hits the catcher’s mitt to the moment the ball reaches the fielder’s projected receiving point at the center of the base — is within the range of the Major League Baseball average. In fact, only 24 of the 73 rostered major-league catchers currently have a “pop time” better than Beaird. It’s good evidence to suggest a major-league arm is perhaps the equivalent of a pitcher who can hit the high 90s on the radar gun.
College base stealers are being held to a major-league standard by the former Science Hill standout, whose level of improvement at the specialized position will likely increase the interest of professional teams when Major League Baseball’s First Year Player Draft is held next month.
“Matt's success this year, I'd say it's probably the single most unbelievable season I've ever seen from a catcher behind the plate,” said Chanticleers’ associate head coach Kevin Schnall.
Beaird still has work to do this season as the Chanticleers once again chase NCAA Tournament dreams. But the thought of pro ball appeals to him.
“Absolutely,” Beaird said via phone interview Tuesday after his team’s practice. “I really enjoy playing baseball, and I want to continue. I enjoy competing with the other guys.”
The Chanticleers’ senior has thrown out 22 of 32 would-be base stealers this season for a 69-percent caught-stealing rate. According to research by Coastal Carolina publicist Mike Cawood, Stanford's Maverick Handley and Baylor's Shea Langeliers are the only other Division I catchers over 60 percent — and just three others are at 50 percent or better.
“If your catcher is above 30 percent, you're pretty happy with it,” said Schnall.
Beaird also has picked off three runners at first base and three more at second. Most of those are called plays, said Beaird.
“Sometimes a guy gets off base far enough where maybe you can make a play, but most times it’s a predetermined play between me and the first baseman, second baseman or shortstop,” said Beaird.
Ringing up the type of numbers Beaird has produced is not just a product of raw talent. The 6-foot, 200-pound Beaird said catching is an art form. If so, his 2018 season is his first masterpiece.
“Learning and teaching about catching is something I really enjoy,” he said. “I like the art of catching because there is not one certain way of doing it. There are different ways, and if it gets the job done good things happen.”
Hitting isn’t as strong as defense for Beaird. He’s batting .220 with two homers and 20 RBIs in 123 at-bats. He also attempted one stolen base, and yes, he was caught.
If Beaird doesn’t get the call from pro ball, he has an academic background as a safety net. He’s graduating cum laude in exercise and sport science. He was chosen as Academic All-Region, and will be in consideration for Academic All-America honors.
Beaird is doing all of this on another good Coastal Carolina team. The Chanticleers are 36-16, having clinched the Sun Belt Conference regular season title. They missed last year’s NCAA Tournament after winning the national championship in 2016.
Beaird said teamwork and team success have been at the core of his standout efforts. He gave credit to his pitchers for their tempo to the plate and timing of their pickoff moves. He added infielders Corey Wood, Keaton Weisz and Seth Lancaster to the success mix for occasionally scooping balls out of the dirt to put on tags.
And he said he hopes the team continues to thrive for a couple more months.
“It’s a team-first atmosphere, and we have a chance to make a good run,” said Beaird.