For those of you who don't know the name Austin Filiere I recommend you learn it soon. Filiere recently finished his junior year of college and was drafted in the 8th round of the MLB draft last week by the Chicago Cubs. You're probably wondering why this is relevant to Boston. Right? Well he played his college ball at MIT in the heart of Boston. I'm sure many of you just relate MIT with geniuses. However, their athletics program are also very competitive in the NEWMAC conference and at the D3 level. Filiere was the 2nd D3 player to hear his name called in this year's draft. This story is especially close to my heart being a former D3 baseball player myself and playing against Filiere for 3 years. I'll get more into that later.
Early Years and High School
Filiere was born in Chandler, Arizona in 1995. He comes from a huge sports family and started playing baseball before he could remember. He always knew that baseball was his love and the sport he was going to play. He played basketball in middle school but was always the most dedicated to baseball. He was lucky enough to play on a multitude of club teams before high school that were coached by former major league players. These coaches really helped Filiere fine tune his skills and learn the ins and outs of baseball more than he could imagine at such a young age. Before he hit his growth spurt he was always one of the smaller ones on the team and often played 2nd base and batted second in the lineup. He learned to play small ball, bunts and hit and runs were not uncommon for the coach to call when Filiere was hitting. However, it wasn't until high school where Filiere would meet his favorite coach he's ever played for: Coach Woods. Filiere attended Hamilton High School, which has produced multiple ballplayers that have been drafted in recent years. The graduating class before Filiere saw 2 players get drafted and the year before them saw another player get drafted. Filiere being taken in the 8th round was the latest of these 4 players. One of the players in the graduating class before Filiere is the Dodgers' rookie phenom Cody Bellinger. Filiere, along with the other teammates, were able to take baseball as one of their classes during their senior year. They would use the time to go outside and practice. Living in Arizona they could pretty much practice year round. However, baseball didn't always come easy for Filiere. He had a less than satisfactory junior year of high school. "It was my first major struggle." He wasn't happy with any part of his game that year. "I didn't hit, I didn't do anything as well as I would've liked." Filiere went back to the drawing board and tried to fix his swing. The major correction that he made was to "start early and make sure to get everything in a good position to hit." One hitting coach he went to see repeated one phrase over and over that really stuck in Filiere's head: "Load earlier, load earlier, load earlier." This simple correction set Filiere in the right direction and there was no going back. Right away he started seeing better results and how easy it was for him to hit these pitchers when he was ready to swing earlier. His senior year was a completely different experience for him. His team went 30-3 and won the state championship. Filiere was a huge part of the run. He was voted by one publication as Arizona player of the year and was awarded all-state and many other awards that go along with that. But for Filiere, "the best thing was the state championship by far." Many players would say that winning player of the year was more special than winning the state championship, but not Filiere. His drive to win and be the best teammate he can be are what make Filiere stand out. The accolades come when you play the game the right way, are the best player AND your team wins.
MIT and the Cape Cod League
Because most of the college recruiting process is done during junior year, Filiere did not have many D1 offers and committed to MIT to play baseball. He felt that MIT was the best place for him given the opportunities that he was granted. It is tough to imagine MIT as a fallback school, but for Filiere it was to a certain extent. Coach Carroll saw Filiere at a Stanford camp and knew he wanted him right away. He was a little worried he wouldn't get in because MIT has such a prolific education and is difficult to get accepted to. Nonetheless, he was accepted and committed to MIT when a couple D1 colleges called him after his senior year saying they have a spot for him on their team. Filiere may have been tempted but he "had already told Coach Carroll I was going to MIT and I wasn't going to go back on it." To say the least, Filiere had an amazing 3 years at MIT. His freshman year he was voted the National Rookie of the Year by D3baseball.com and led his team to a conference championship and an NCAA tournament appearance. His awards throughout his 3 years are almost too many to count. He was NEWMAC conference player of the year twice. He was a first team All-Region selection all 3 years. All 3 years he was voted either second or third team All-American. His senior season was capped off with a first team All-Region selection, second-team All-American selection and third team Academic All-American selection. Now that it is all said and done at MIT, Filiere holds the career records for batting average (.414), OBP (.543), slugging percentage (.809), home runs (39), runs scored (172), RBIs (151), and walks (111). Just to keep these stats in perspective, Filiere only played 3 seasons at MIT and claims he struggled at the start of his sophomore and junior seasons. Filiere mentioned that the "starts to my seasons were both pretty bad." Hitting is all about feel and he can tell when he is feeling good at the plate and when he is not. The ability to feel the difference allows for him to make adjustments right away and limit the length of any slumps he may encounter. For his junior year he "didnt feel good until halfway through the season" and still finished the year with a .375 average, .530 OBP and a .794 slugging percentage. Needless to say, he is the best baseball player in MIT history. He will be returning to MIT in the fall after his first glimpse at minor league short season ball in order to complete his degree and graduate in three and a half years. Filiere is looking forward to heading back to MIT because "All my friends are there so it will be cool to have another semester with them." If it were up to Filiere he would still go back and finish his degree in the fall but the he also knew that his mom "wouldn't just let me not graduate." The Filiere family clearly value both athletics and academics highly, which is why it is no shock that Austin was selected in the MLB draft and will still graduate from MIT.
Fortunately (or unfortunately) for me, I had the privilege of pitching against Filiere all 3 years he was at MIT. I can honestly say I've never faced a better hitter in all of my years as a pitcher. I cannot remember a time he swung and missed at a pitch. As with all great players, it always seemed like he was coming up to the plate in the biggest spots late in the game. He almost always delivered. He never seemed to be fooled by a pitch. The at-bat that sticks in my head the most was during the playoffs of his sophomore year. He was facing our ace with runners on second and third. He worked at least a 10-pitch at-bat that ended with him roping a triple into the right center field gap that drove in 2 and knocked our starter out of the game. Coach Matt Noone from Babson College coached many games against him in his three years at MIT and threw him batting practice during his pre-draft workout with the Red Sox. Coach Noone called Filiere "one of the best players I have ever competed against at any level." As a coach, Noone had to "worry all game long when his spot in the order was going to come up." I can attest to that constant worry due to the fact that every time his spot was coming up after the 5th inning I was pretty much told to start warming up in the bullpen "just in case." Coach Noone has been around baseball at all levels (including the MLB with the Red Sox) and constantly mentions players' compete level and their devotion to playing the game the right way. The best compliment Noone could say about anybody was that "for three years I have watched Austin play the game with class and enthusiasm and that earned him the right to say he was the top player in New England. I got to know him a little from the third base coaching box and you could always sense his love for the game and his great desire to beat you." Coach Noone also played collegiate ball at Princeton, which is a reason he admires academic excellence as well. Noone has "nothing but respect for how he plays the game and I am really rooting for him. His is a story that we all should root for."
Filiere spent the summer after his sophomore year playing in the highly coveted Cape Cod Baseball League for the Harwich Mariners. He knew this would be the true test to see how he matched up with the other draft prospects. He was the only player on his team that did not play Division 1 baseball. Once again, Filiere shined. He batted .248 with 7 homeruns and 27 RBIs. Those 7 homeruns and 27 RBIs were both good for second in the entire league. Of his 29 hits that summer, 14 of them were for extra bases. He has the type of power and pop off of the bat that can't be taught. You either have it or you don't. Filiere has it. The entire Cape League knew Filiere as the kid whose bat makes the loudest sound when he hits the ball. Even though he finished top 2 in HR and RBI Filiere didn't know where he ranked in terms of the different stats. Filiere was "not sure exactly how I ended up." Stats are great, but the best players don't worry about their stats and just play the best they can day in and day out.
Everybody knew Filiere was going to be drafted. The only question was when? There were rumors he would be taken top 5 rounds. Some scouts said top 15-20 rounds. By draft day Filiere had been told he would be taken before the 15th round. However, like a true ballplayer Filiere has a little bit of superstition. He didn't want to jinx anything when his friends said they would talk to him once he was drafted. Filiere tried to not let what everybody was saying to get in his head. He thought he "was going to go, but at the end of the day it's the draft so you never know." He had been told by his advisor early on that the Cubs seemed to have the most interest in him. The day he was drafted Filiere was just "around the house with his mom doing some chores." He was watching some of the draft, but tried to not pay too close attention to it while not completely disregarding it either. In the afternoon he received a call from the Cubs asking if he would sign for slot value in the 7th or 8th round. Of course Filiere said he would right away. When the 7th round passed Filiere thought "well maybe they will draft me in the 8th round." Halfway through the 8th round he received another call from the Cubs saying that "we are going to draft you at the end of the 8th round. We would love to have you and we will pay for your last semester of college." The only condition was that he had to tell other teams that were going to draft him after the 8th round that he wasn't interested. This felt a little weird to Filiere but he agreed and waited to be selected. The Cardinals actually reached out to him a few selections before he was drafted and expressed interest as well. The Cardinals however weren't picking again until the 9th round. He had to inform the Cardinals that the rival Cubs were already taking him in the 8th round. He hung up the phone with the Cardinals and the Cubs were almost on the clock.
This was it! He was about to be drafted by the reigning World Series Champion Chicago Cubs. Filiere recalls it "was just me and my mom standing there." When he heard his name announced "me and my mom were super excited." He called his dad right away to tell him the great news. However it wasn't until later that day when he could truly celebrate. When he went to call his sister at work, the front desk said she never showed up for work because they had her name spelt wrong in the system. His mom saw his sister's car at her work so she knew they had messed something up. He had to hang up and try calling her cell phone instead. She didn't answer the first couple times so now him and his mom were "freaking out and wondering what happened to my sister." Once he could get a hold of her to know she was fine and tell her he was drafted, the rest of the day was filled with excitement. He spent the night hanging out at home with family and friends eating some pizza and enjoying the moment. Filiere says being drafted by Theo Epstein added a little bit extra to the whole experience because he is a "baseball genius." Throughout the past couple of months Filiere has actually created a great relationship with Peter Gammons, one of the best baseball sportswriters in the world. Filiere received a text from Gammons shortly after being drafted that said "Theo texted me when he was going to draft you because he knew I would be excited."
The past 3 years Filiere has played a multitude of different positions. He started his freshman year at MIT playing 3rd base and moved to shortstop for his sophomore and junior seasons. In the Cape Cod League he primarily played left field, some right field, and a couple games at 3rd base. So where will he play in the Cubs organization? "I think I'll be all over. I think I'll play some second, third, left, right." Filiere is not going to be picky. "I'm looking forward to whatever they have in store for me." I asked if he got to choose what position he would play, where would it be? "I used to play tons of second base so I'd like to give second base a shot just because that's where I used to play when I was younger." Coming back to second base would be a cool way to bring his baseball career full circle. Having such a long baseball career already, Filiere has always loved to watch the major league players and watch how they play. Being a huge baseball fan for his whole life, Filiere likes to look up to and adapt the playing styles of Longoria, Votto, and Goldschmidt. I think it is fair enough to say he has been successful in doing that so far.
Austin Filiere is going to be a name you want to remember and follow his climb through the Cubs organization. He is the best batter I have ever faced and possibly the best competitor as well. He truly is a special ballplayer and should not be overlooked because he played division 3 or at MIT. He plays the game hard and the right way at all times. He treats every opponent with respect and has more pure power than most batters in the draft. Lastly, as Coach Noone would say "he is the epitome of the top scholar athlete that you have to admire."