Prospect Retro: Gary Matthews Jr.
Gary Matthews Jr. was drafted by the San Diego Padres in the 13th round of the 1993 draft, out of Mission Community College in California. The son of former major leaguer Gary Matthews, Junior was respected for his athletic ability and bloodlines, but doubts about his hitting kept him from being a premium pick. Matthews made his pro debut in 1994 and did not play well, hitting just .209 with a .251 SLG in 52 games for Spokane in the Northwest League. He'd rate a Grade C at best given that performance.
Matthews moved up to Class A Clinton in the Midwest League in 1995, hitting .238 with 28 steals and 68 walks. He didn't hit for any power, just a .314 SLG. His speed and walks looked good, but obviously there were still serious doubts about his hitting . Again, Grade C at best.
The Padres moved him up to Rancho Cucamonga in the California League in 1996. He raised his batting average to .271 and drew 60 walks, although his speed production dropped off with just 6 swipes. He did show more pop, raising his SLG to .418. Grade C still, but with signs of improvement.
Returning to Rancho to begin 1997, Matthews hit .302/.415/.478 in 69 games, earning promotion to Double-A Mobile where he hit .244/.352/.378. I was impressed with him in the Arizona Fall League, and raised him to Grade C+ in the 1998 book, thinking that he was on the verge of a breakthrough.
Injuries limited Matthews to 72 games in Double-A in 1998, but he did well, hitting .307/.428/.480. He drew praise for his defense as well. I gave him a Grade B+ in the 1999 book, rating him as a potential Seven Skill player due to his walks, power, and speed. The only flaw was a higher-than-ideal strikeout rate, but I wasn't too worried about it.
Triple-A in 1999 was a disappointment: Matthews hit just .256/.352/.386 for Las Vegas. . .he drew walks but his production was down across the board otherwise. He played in 23 games for the Padres, hitting .222. Nagging injuries were a problem, and perhaps he was more hurt than he let on since scouts said every part of his game got worse....hitting, running, fielding. I dropped him to Grade C+ in the 2000 book.
He was traded to the Cubs for 2000 and split the year between Triple-A and the majors not playing well at either level. Matthews played for the Pirates, Orioles, Mets, and the Padres again before finding a home in Texas. His season this year (.311/.373/.499 so far) looks like a career campaign to me, although it's a little later than normal at age 32.
His career path has been somewhat unusual: not much power at first but a knack for drawing walks, erratic speed production, a breakout minor league campaign followed by injuries and inconsistency. Certainly, no one back in 1994 would have believed, on the basis of his weak performance at the lowest levels, that Matthews would be hitting .311/.373/.499 in the major leagues 12 years later.