Jorge Mateo is swinging a hot bat for the Trenton Thunder.
Once the New York Yankees top prospect, a down 2016 and influx of newly acquired minor league talent saw Mateo drop just a tad down the charts. Mateo, blessed with natural talent, is once again showing his top prospect form in Trenton.
Sure, the sample is small, but it was enough to come out with a bang. Mateo was promoted from Tampa to Trenton on June 27, and six games later he is the Eastern League Player of the Week.
Let’s take a step back, and have a Jorge Mateo 101 refresher course, shall we?
Mateo was signed out of the Dominican Republic in 2012 and almost immediately became the Yankees top prospect. He paired a natural athleticism with 80-grade speed and was simply the most exciting player to watch on the pipeline.
He absolutely tore up the South Atlantic League in his 2015 debut, and that’s when he skyrocketed up the minor league prospect charts. He slashed .268/.338/.378 with 18 doubles, eight triples, two home runs and a league best 71 stolen bases.
But then 2016 happened. Mateo seemingly took a step back in his first full season in Tampa. He posted a full-season career-worst 21.3 percent strikeout rate and saw both his batting average and on-base percentage dip. He was also suspended for two weeks due to insubordination with the coaching staff.
Suddenly, questions of his maturity arose as Gleyber Torres was thriving and suddenly Mateo was no longer the diamond of the Yankees Universe eyes. Was he still the shortstop of the future? Second baseman? Centerfielder? Or did he even become the dreaded trade bait?
That’s a lot for a youngster to handle, no matter how much the outsider says, ‘that’s what he gets pad for.’ Whatever the case was, whether he was pushing or mentally taken out of the game, Mateo fell. But his athleticism and skill were too much to simply overlook. With Torres and Clint Frazier coming over at the deadline, and Blake Rutherford coming via the draft, John Sickels ranked Mateo as the fourth-best Yankees prospect in the system.
...hit .254/.306/.379 with eight homers, 36 steals, 33 walks, 108 strikeouts in 464 at-bats in High-A; outstanding 80-grade speed is best tool; can also flash power but strike zone judgment is erratic, as is his defense; made summer headlines for wrong reasons due to two-week suspension for insubordinate behavior towards team officials; young enough to overcome makeup concerns; not a bad infielder but may wind up in outfield or in super-utility role; ETA. 2019
Enter 2017. Now, Mateo’s start in Tampa didn’t necessarily lead to his promotion. Torres is out for the year. Names like Miguel Andujar jumped to Triple-A, while Dustin Fowler jumped to the big leagues. Mateo’s natural progression was upward, and the 22-year-old has delivered.
He has only not registered a hit in one game since he arrived in Trenton. That game? He walked four times. Heading into Monday’s action, he was 12-for-23 with five walks and seven strikeouts. His first Double-A home run was in grand fashion, registering four of his ten RBI.
Watching Mateo at the plate both Saturday and Sunday, you can tell that the strikeout rate comes from an aggressive approach. Mateo wants to hit, and when he is grooving, he attacks early in the count. This is good when he is on a hot streak, but obviously raises a bit of concern when he is not. Someone with his speed profile wants to get on base often.
Matt Kardos of Pinstriped Prospects noticed the same thing. “He is generally an aggressive player, and is trying to push the envelope,” he said.
He has a lot of noise pre-pitch. He seemingly doesn’t stop moving, bouncing back and forth at the knees with a wiggle in his hands, held helmet high. His bat explodes through the zone, and it is easy to see there is power behind that swing. If he can harness that raw power and learn some patience with the strike zone, the Yankees are looking at a .280 hitter that can bomb 15 home runs and steal upwards of 60 bases.
How about a breakdown of his at bats Saturday night?
1st AB: Mateo took a strike, and then went opposite field slapping a single though the hole. Guess what? He stole second base by a large margin. It was pretty impressive since the ball was outside and the FisherCats Danny Jansen had a good start on the throw. Jansen made Mateo pay, however, throwing him out at third.
2nd AB: With bases loaded, Mateo wasted little time. He teed off on the first pitch and made perfect contact on that meaty part of the bat and pulled a bases-clearing RBI triple.
3rd AB: Sacrifice bunt. Laid it down the third base line, maybe a bit too far, and he was still one step away from being safe and loading the bases. Still, he got the job done.
4th AB: The shortstop was in, and Mateo pulled the first pitch right where the shortstop would have been. Smart hitting, got the RBI.
5th AB: Brace yourself. Mateo took a few pitches. To be fair, he came to the plate following back-to-back walks. He took a ball, then a strike, and then fouled one off before putting the ball through the left side in nearly the same exact spot as the previous pitch.
He went 4-for-4 on eight pitches. Not too shabby.
Mateo seems like he is in a better place. One can question his maturity for his actions last year, but sometimes a change of place is the right thing. He feels a lot of positive energy at Arm and Hammer according to Kardos, and he is clearly thriving off go it.
Defensively, Mateo can also improve, but he is so athletic with a rifle of an arm that he can stick at short if he cleans it up a bit. A future at second or the outfield isn’t out of the question, but as John hinted, perhaps versatility across several positions could be his ticket to New York.
Somehow, Mateo became somewhat of a forgotten man in the Yankees system. Now, because of the injury plague that has beseeched the Bronx, he has a chance to rise up the ladder quickly. Maybe Mateo is ready to put it all together, and if he is, it will be an exciting end to the season.