Matthew S. Willard
- Bats Right, Throws Right
- Height 5' 11", Weight 177 lb.
- School University of Arkansas
- High School Council Rock High School North
- Born December 31, 1985 in Bucks County, PA USA
Early Life and High School Career
Matt Willard was born in Bucks County, PA on New Year's Eve, 1985. Sources differ as to the exact location. Some give Doylestown while others list Newtown. He grew up during the glory days of early '90's Philadelphia Phillies and idolized Lenny Dykstra.
Matt attended the All American Baseball Academy training facility in Warrington as well as the All-Star Baseball Academy for several years starting at age 13. In 2003, Willard participated in both the Northeast and the Southeast Top Prospect Showcases run by Perfect Game USA where he impressed scouts with his fielding and strong arm. Representing the All-Star Baseball Academy in the 2003 Baseball America/Perfect Game World Wood Bat Championship, Willard hit a single, a double, and a three-run home run. The home run tied the game in the bottom of the seventh inning.
Willard attended Council Rock High School North in Newtown where he earned Bucks County Player of the Year honors in 2004.
Matt entered the University of Arkansas in the fall of 2004. He was also recruited by Boston College and the University of Notre Dame. The Razorbacks had a loaded squad for the 2005 season so Willard spent his time in the dugout as a redshirted freshman. He was later quoted as saying that it was the best thing that could have happened for him - "I got to learn from a great group of guys ... I definitely benefited from being able to watch and learn."
Willard's 2006 season at the University of Arkansas saw him post a .286 batting average, and a .377 on-base percentage over 55 games. He collected 7 doubles, 2 home runs, 27 runs scored, 22 walks, and 20 runs batted in. His lack of power was reflected in his .357 slugging percentage. On the base paths, Willard was able to swipe 8 bases while getting caught 3 times. A highlight of the season was an 11th inning single against Wichita State University that gave the Hogs a 4-3 victory.
In the summer, he played for the Euless LoneStars in the Texas Collegiate League. Matt finished the season with a .435 on-base percentage and a .336 batting average - second behind league leader Matt Cavagnaro of Penn State who hit .345. In 36 games, he had 5 doubles, a triple, and 19 walks while driving in 11. In the field, Willard commited 12 errors in 170 total chances (.930). He won Player of the Week honors on July 6 and was named to the All-League Team at the shortstop position at the end of the campaign.
Matt improved his numbers in some areas despite having 42 fewer at-bats in 2007. He hit .293/.407/.371 which were all better than the 2006 figures for Willard. He tallied 9 doubles, 41 runs, 20 walks, and 16 RBI. His 8 stolen bases equaled his 2006 total. Following the campaign, Matt's performance earned him consideration in the amateur draft.
While he decided on turning pro or returning to college, Willard played for the Wisconsin Woodchucks in the Northwoods League who were managed by Jim Gantner. In 31 games, he hit .178 with 2 doubles and 8 runs batted in. He signed with Cleveland before the end of the season.
Minor League Career
Willard was picked by the Cleveland Indians in the 49th round of the 2007 Amateur Draft (1423rd overall). He was signed in July by scout Steve Abney. Willard was assigned to the GCL Indians for the remainder of the 2007 season and made his debut on July 26. He saw action in 26 games where he had a .244 batting average over 90 at-bats with 4 doubles, 6 runs batted in, 14 runs scored, and 12 stolen bases. In the field, Willard made 12 errors at shortstop and posted an .898 fielding percentage.
Matt started 2008 with the Lake County Captains in the South Atlantic League. In 39 games with Lake County, he hit just .184 with a home run, 8 RBI, a stolen base, and 13 runs scored. In mid-July, Willard was sent back to the Gulf Coast where he spent the rest of the campaign until he was placed on the disabled list in late August. In the remaining 22 contests, Matt suffered through a .155 batting average and a .231 on-base percentage. For the season, he was a combined .172/.237/.259. He hit .250 as a pinch hitter. Willard played 27 games at shortstop and put up a .937 fielding percentage. He played one more game at short than in 2007 and had half the errors. Matt also saw significant action at second where he had a .898 fielding percentage. He covered third in three contests.
Willard's 2009 season began on May 3 with the Lake County Captains. His 2 for 3 showing with a walk earned him a bump up to Advanced-A with the Carolina League Kinston Indians. In his one game with the K-Tribe, Matt was 1 for 3 with a stolen base. He was then sent back to Lake County. Matt played with the Captains through May 18. He compiled a .286 batting average over 8 games with 2 doubles and a run batted in. His 6 walks boosted his on-base percentage to .412. Willard was then assigned to the short season Mahoning Valley Scrappers in the New York-Pennsylvania League. Their schedule is due to start on June 19.
Off Season Activities
Willard has been listed as an instructor for Big Leagues Academy, a developmental organization run by Jeff Manto and located in Willard's hometown of Newtown.