Name: Jorge Mateo
Height/Weight: 6’0’’, 190
Acquired: Traded from the New York Yankees on July 31, 2017.
The Oakland A’s acquired three prospects from the New York Yankees in the Sonny Gray trade. While they are still waiting for the regular season debuts of James Kaprielian and Dustin Fowler, the A’s got a six-week look at Jorge Mateo after the trade and liked what they saw. Can Mateo challenge for a big league spot in 2018?
Top prospects with the Yankees always receive quite a bit of national coverage, and Mateo has experienced the bright lights of Yankee-prospect scrutiny since 2013, when he burst onto the scene with an 828 OPS and 49 stolen bases in 64 games for the Yankees DSL1 team. Mateo’s performance was up-and-down with the Yankees, but he received a fresh start when he was traded to the A’s in 2017. The early returns with Mateo in white cleats have been positive.
Mateo signed with the Yankees in January 2012 for $250,000. He put together two solid seasons in the Dominican Summer League, flashing five-tool potential. The native of the Dominican Republic got a taste of baseball in the United States in 2014 with a 15-game stint in the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League.
In 2015, Mateo jumped to full-season ball, suiting up for Low-A Charleston and later High-A Tampa. In 117 games between the two A-ball levels, Mateo hit .278 with a .345 OBP and he stole a remarkable 82 bases in 99 opportunities. He hit only two home runs but racked up 23 doubles and 11 triples.
Despite hitting .321 in 21 games with Tampa in 2015, Mateo returned to Tampa for the 2016 season. There were reports that he was unhappy to be in A-ball and he was suspended for two weeks during the season for breaking team rules. He had been slated to participate in the MLB All-Star Futures Game but lost his spot when he was suspended. His 2016 season overall was disappointing, as he hit .254/.306/.379 with eight home runs and 36 stolen bases in 113 games for Tampa.
The Yankees again returned Mateo to Tampa for the start of the 2017 season. He continued to put up disappointing numbers with the T-Yankees, but when Yankees’ top shortstop prospect Gleybar Torres went down with a season-ending elbow injury mid-season, Mateo got an opportunity to move up to Double-A. Once in a different environment, Mateo’s level of play took off. In 30 games with the Double-A Trenton Thunder, Mateo hit .300/.381/.525 with 16 extra-base hits.
After the A’s acquired Mateo at the trade deadline, they assigned him to Double-A Midland. He quickly became a key component in the RockHounds’ quest for a fourth-straight Texas League title. In 30 regular season games with Midland, Mateo hit .292/.333/.518 with 16 extra-base hits. Mateo finished 2017 with a career-high 129 games played (he also added 10 more in the postseason) between Tampa, Trenton and Midland. He hit .267/.322/.459 with 30 doubles, 18 triples, 12 home runs and 52 stolen bases.
Mateo went on to play winter ball in the Dominican. During that season, he sustained a strain of a ligament in his left knee. The injury has limited him in spring training, keeping him off of the field for games thus far, although he has been able to participate in drills and batting practice.
The health of Mateo’s knee is obviously of great importance to the A’s given that his legs drive his game. Although Mateo has some power, where he disrupts the game the most is when he is running out of the batter’s box or is on the bases.
“He makes things happen and is very aggressive on the bases,” A’s Director of Player Development Keith Lieppman said in a late-season interview. “He’s a constant stolen base threat whenever he gets on base and he creates a lot of havoc out there. He disrupts pitchers’ timing and creates a lot more opportunities for the guys who are hitting behind him. Once he gets on base, there is a lot of action.”
Mateo is as close to an 80 runner (on the 20-80 scouting scale) as any player in the game. Not only does he have elite speed, but he also picks his spots well for a young player. In 452 minor league games, he has 234 stolen bases in 291 chances (81% success rate). He also has 46 triples.
Speed isn’t Mateo’s only skill. Mateo has quick wrists and strong hands that he uses to whip the bat quickly through the hitting zone. He gets plenty of balls in the air and on the line and works the right-centerfield gap with relative ease.
He also has an above-average throwing arm that allows him to make some spectacular plays deep in the hole at shortstop. The Yankees used Mateo in centerfield a bit and he was able to show off his arm strength in the outfield, as well. He is an excellent athlete with a quick first step and smooth hands. Like many young infielders, Mateo can struggle with concentration from play to play at times, but he has a chance to be at least an average defensive middle infielder in the big leagues as he matures.
Mateo still has some development to do on both sides of the ball. In addition to developing more consistency defensively, he needs to work on shoring up his approach at the plate. His strike-out totals rose in 2017 and he often got himself out by swinging at first pitches. With Mateo’s ability to disrupt the game on the bases, the A’s would happily trade a little of Mateo’s slugging for a better on-base percentage.
Assuming Mateo’s knee is healthy at the end of camp, he should head to Triple-A Nashville, where he is likely to team with Franklin Barreto in the middle infield to start the year. Mateo and Barreto should split time between shortstop and second base and Mateo may also see a few reps in centerfield. He is a strong candidate to make his major league debut this season.
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