NORMAL — Matt Portland's desire to return to affiliated baseball was strong when he arrived in Normal last summer, maybe a bit too strong.
"I was really focused on doing whatever it took to get picked up," Portland said Tuesday. "That kind of took away from my game and competing out there. I was worried about the peripherals too much."
A less intense approach and improved control has netted the Normal CornBelters left-hander a contract with the Chicago White Sox.
The 24-year-old Portland will fly to Great Falls, Mont., Thursday and join the White Sox's short-season team in the Pioneer League.
"We're just excited for him. The kid has worked really hard and done a great job here and cut down on his walks," Normal manager Billy Horn said. "The White Sox were looking for a guy, and he was at the top of their list."
Portland, who spent 2015-16 in the Kansas City Royals farm system, was 1-1 with a 3.12 ERA in 40⅓ innings for the Belters last season. He struck out 48 but issued an alarming 32 walks.
Horn and Portland, who have been acquainted since Portland's freshman year in college, had a preseason chat.
"We talked and he said it was very simple," Portland said. "If I threw well and kept my walks down and still had other good numbers, something good would happen. I've tried to enjoy every day here and take it one day at a time. Fortunately, it's paid off."
The 6-foot-3 Portland is 3-2 with the ERA up slightly to 3.55 this season. Yet in 38 innings, his 44 strikeouts have been accompanied by a mere 15 walks.
"Guys who are doing it at the highest level, they all control the baseball," said the native of Victor, N.Y. "By no means have I figured it out. It's an ongoing process in terms of baseball maturity.
"But I think I've taken a good step forward so far this year. That's always been a part of my game that kind of lagged behind a little bit."
Portland is the second Normal starting pitcher to be plucked by a major league organization this season.
Scott Sebald was previously signed by the Miami Marlins and was recently promoted from the team's rookie level farm team to Class A Greensboro in the South Atlantic League.