Padres: Jorge Mateo is making a strong case for a bench spot

(Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images)
(Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images) /

Jorge Mateo‘s last big season came in 2017 while in Double-A as a member of the New York Yankees organization. Once ranked as New York’s top overall prospect after signing in 2016 for $225,000 out of the Dominican Republic, Mateo was seen as the next big thing in the Bronx.

Fast forward five years, and the former top prospect is still hanging around, attempting to leverage his strong spring into a bench spot on the San Diego Padres Opening Day roster. In 2017, Mateo ranked as the number four prospect for the Yankees when they shipped him to the Oakland Athletics as part of a package deal in exchange for starting pitcher Sonny Gray.

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Mateo was in Oakland’s system for just two seasons before being traded to San Diego for outfielder Junior Perez last fall. After a season at Triple-A Las Vegas in 2019 in which the 25-year-old slashed .289/.330/.504, Mateo spent time up with the Padres in 2020. He struggled to a .154/.185/.269 line with a 39.3 percent strikeout rate.

Padres are seeing a new Jorge Mateo

This spring has been a different tune for Mateo. In 12 games thus far, the righty is hitting .393, slugging .571, and boasts a whopping 1.071 OPS. On Sunday, Mateo continued his torrid start with another multi-hit game, including a triple and three RBI. Spring training aside, Mateo is 6-for-10 in his past three games and seeing the ball exceptionally well.

Everything is clicking for Mateo, and obviously, the hope remains he can carry it into the season on some level. Likely, Mateo will regress to his offensive mean and has a projected .223/.269/.355 line, per STEAMER projections at FanGraphs. He is just a season removed from 19 home runs at Triple-A and has shown he can be productive.

Mateo’s biggest weapon is his elite 80-grade speed. In just his second season in professional baseball, Mateo stole 49 bases. Two years later, he followed it up with a 71-steal season. Between 2018 and 2019 combined, Mateo swiped 49 bags. Therefore, his biggest asset could consequently come in the form of a late-game pinch-runner in high-leverage situations.

Next. Another day, another scoreless outing from Snell. dark

Last season many superstar players had abysmal seasons. On the flip side, several guys unexpectedly put together strong campaigns. Mateo may be a diamond in the rough in 2021, as the Padres hope he can entirely turn the corner. For now, however, let’s enjoy the fun and the ride.