Defining Jorge Mateo’s role with Padres in 2021

Mandatory Credit: Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports

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(AP Photo/Matt York)

Jorge Mateo remains under team control through the 2025 season. How will the San Diego Padres utilize him in the 2021 season?

Acquired by the Padres approximately a month before the 2020 shortened season was set to begin, Jorge Mateo was coming off a season in which he led the Pacific Coast League with 14 triples. He also exhibited some surprising pop, hitting 19 home runs to go along with 78 RBI’s in 119 games. With expanded rosters and the DH implementation in the National League, Mateo provided the Padres with another potential weapon, as demonstrated by his blazing speed.

He was limited to 22 games in San Diego because of a positive COVID-19 test. As Mateo watched on, other players filled up the roster. The turning point was perhaps Tommy Pham‘s hand injury, freeing up more playing time in left field. The 25-year-old played seven games in the outfield, five at second base, and four in the DH role for the Padres. Despite the majority of his time in the minor leagues spent at the shortstop position, Mateo had a perfect fielding percentage in the outfield, albeit a limited sample size.

While his defense was above-average, the same cannot be said for his production at the plate. Mateo hit just .154 with nearly a 40 percent strikeout rate while taking walks at less than a four percent clip. Due to his speed, he became a valuable asset once on base, but obviously, that was hard to come by. Perhaps over a larger sample size, Mateo would produce better numbers.

He’s out of minor league options and under team control through the 2025 season. The Padres recently completed the trade, sending Julio Perez to Oakland. The 19-year-old had a breakout year in rookie ball in 2019, hitting .268 with 11 home runs while swiping 11 bases. Perez is still a few years away from making a potential big league debut, but the Padres wouldn’t have traded him away if Mateo wasn’t in their plans.

So what role does he have with the club next season?

Whether the league carries the DH in the National League again, more opportunities similar to 2020 could present themselves, especially when injuries occur. In that role, Mateo is likely the fourth or fifth outfielder, depending on what transpires with Jurickson Profar this offseason. He’d also likely be the backup at shortstop and second base, making it easier to non-tender to Greg Garcia.

If the league reverts to 2019 rules in the NL, Mateo’s role is truly undefined right now. Sure, the Padres could carry him as a bench player, pinch-hitting for starting pitchers and pinch-running in key scenarios. Beyond that, the league may permanently implement the DH as part of the new Collective Bargaining Agreement in 2022.

With the outfield depth and talent the Padres traded this season in Edward Olivares, Franchy Cordero, and Taylor Trammell, Mateo is likely to serve as a backup in some capacity to all three spots. His playing time could be few and far between, but that could change with the DH in the National League. The Padres recently declined Mitch Moreland‘s option for 2021 because of the DH uncertainty. Sure, they could circle back to Moreland, but might someone like Wil Myers transition into the DH next year?

Under that umbrella, Mateo’s role starts to become a bit more clear.

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