A look at the San Diego Padres’ newest talent- Jorge Mateo.
The San Diego Padres acquired minor league shortstop Jorge Mateo from the Oakland Athletics for a Player to Be Named Later earlier this week.
Padres general manager A.J. Preller coveted Mateo for some time as the 25-year-old Dominican was ranked as the fourth-best prospect in the Oakland A’s system in 2019. The player sent to Oakland is not yet known, so the ability to fully evaluate the pros and cons of this trade is clouded.
Let’s take a better look at just what the Padres got in the speedy infielder.
Mateo is never going to be mistaken for Giancarlo Stanton in the power department, having never hit more than eight home runs in a season prior to 2019.
However, something clicked for Mateo last year for Triple-A Las Vegas as he launched 19 home runs in 119 games. Credit the hot, dry air or the 2,000-foot elevation but the jump to nearly 20 home runs cannot be completely discarded.
As we know in the age of launch angle, analytics, and advanced stats, home runs do not tell the whole story. The shortstop posted a .289 average and .834 OPS as well. However, he had a slightly-below-average 96 wRC+ in 2019. How? His strikeout-to-walk ratio leaves much to be desired. He posted just a 5.1 percent walk rate last year next to a lofty 25.6 percent strikeout percentage. He swings and misses far too frequently to become an above-average major league hitter.
FanGraphs rates Mateo’s hitting at 35, which basically projects as a bench piece with the bat. His high strikeout totals and low walk rate suggest he will struggle to hit above .250 in the big leagues.
That does not mean he can’t contribute.
Mateo has played the majority of his time in the minor leagues at shortstop or second base. In case you haven’t heard, the Padres are pretty set at shortstop for the foreseeable future.
However, the six-foot infielder has logged over 550 innings at shortstop and garners a respectable 55 fielding grade from MLB Pipeline. His athleticism and speed allow him to reach balls that other players just cannot get to. He may not have the elite athleticism and arm talent of San Diego’s current shortstop, Fernando Tatis Jr., but really, who does? Mateo provides above-average skills on the diamond.
MLB Pipeline also rates his arm at 60, which is slightly above average. The combination of speed and arm strength suggests he could be a viable defensive depth piece at the middle infield spots.
This is where Mateo separates himself from the rest of the prospects. For starters, he stole an incredible 82 bases in 2015 for the Yankees’ system in Single-A and High-A. His stolen base numbers have looked more mortal in recent years, with 52 in 2017 and then 25 and 24 in 2018 and 2019 respectively.
The struggle for Mateo is getting on base. Once he is on base, he is an absolute menace to society. Even if he is just used as a late-game replacement on the bases a la Billy Hamilton or Terrance Gore, that can sometimes be the difference in a tight game.
Stolen bases are not the only part of his game when it comes to speed. In the last two years for Oakland’s Triple-A affiliate, he amassed an incredible 30 triples.
What are the Padres getting in Mateo?
Likely not an everyday, reliable bat in the lineup. His role will probably be more complex than that. Players with his skill set have made long careers on their speed and fielding ability alone. Even with the National League adopting the DH for 2020 and maybe beyond, Mateo can carve out a role for himself on this year’s club and moving forward as he still contains five years of control on his contract.
The Friars may get creative with his role. There will always be room on a baseball team for a player who can fly and be reliable with the glove.