To finish up our series of player profiles for Monday’s 2017 MLB Draft, let’s look at University of Arizona first baseman J.J. Matijevic.
J.J. Matijevic grew up on a cold-weather environment, playing high school ball in North Huntingdon, Pennsylvania. He drew notice from scouts as early as 2011 but was committed to the University of Arizona and considered a difficult sign on graduation in 2014. He went in the 22nd round to the Boston Red Sox but eschewed the pros for college.
He had a mediocre freshman season, hitting just .238/.317/.406, but hit well in the Cape Cod League that summer. He improved as a sophomore in 2016 with a .287/.332/.414 line. He then took a massive step forward in the 2016 Cape Cod League, hitting .376/.449/.553 with the wooden bat along with an excellent 12/10 BB/K ratio in 85 at-bats.
He kept it up this spring, emerging as one of the most dangerous hitters in college baseball with a .383/.436/.633 line for the Wildcats. He hit 10 homers and 30 doubles with a 23/38 BB/K in 240 at-bats.
Matijevic is a left-handed hitter and thrower born November 14, 1995. In high school Matijevic was listed at 5-10 or 5-11, 200-210 pounds. He’s 6-0/6-1 now and in better shape, 195-200, and the improvement in his conditioning has unlocked his talent.
He’s improved his swing mechanics since his freshman year while showing a much sharper batting eye. Arizona isn’t an easy place for a power hitter and some of those doubles could be home runs at higher levels. His record over two summers in the Cape Cod League (.349/.381/.507 in 229 at-bats overall) gives analytically-oriented teams more confidence in his bat.
Although he doesn’t have a standout defensive tool he’s become a solid first baseman, making just two errors this year for a .996 fielding percentage. His makeup is also a plus.
Matijevic doesn’t have the plus arm strength or running speed to project as a super defender at another position, although he puts in a good effort everywhere and might make a respectable left fielder. It remains to be seen if his home run power will blossom enough for a first baseman in the major leagues. He doesn’t have the pure athleticism or massive raw power teams look for in an early pick and his skills may be maxed out.
Matijevic is the type of polished hitter who will make short work of A-ball, but whether he becomes a possible regular first baseman or just a good role player may not become apparent until he reaches Double-A or Triple-A. In a normal year he’s probably a third round pick, but the shortage of quality college bats (and his own strong track record with wood) could move him up a round.