2015 Stats: .278/.345/.392, 82 SB (!!!), 36 XBH, 40 RBI, 43 BB, 98 SO, 449 AB
2015 Roster Status: Low-A/High-A/Non-40
Jorge Mateo led professional baseball with 82 stolen bases in 2015. And if you're not careful, he just might steal your heart.
Pegged as the team's No. 3 prospect entering spring training, Mateo's stock was mostly based on potential. He was limited to just 15 games the season before, but he slashed .287/.378/.450 with 7 homers and 49 steals as an 18-year-old in 2013's Dominican Summer League. The Yankees decided to start Mateo in Low-A Charleston and midway through the season his performance forced them to promote him to Tampa. Now, with the graduation of Luis Severino, Mateo ranks second behind Aaron Judge on the Yankees' prospect board and should find himself in the back end of the 2016 Top 100.
Mateo, a Santo Domingo native, enjoyed a phenomenal season last year. The lefty-swinging shortstop slashed .278/.345/.392 across two levels of minor league ball. What's more, he upped his batting average significantly after being moved up, hitting .268 in Charleston but .321 in Tampa. His strikeout rate wasn't too terrible for a 20-year-old (19.7%) and he demonstrated a decent eye, earning 43 free passes. Of course, where Mateo really stood out was on the base paths. His 82 steals were eleven better than anyone else at any level of pro ball (Yefri Perez of the Jupiter Hammerheads in the Florida State League finished with 71). Impressively, Mateo was caught just 17 times, for a wild 83% success rate. At a stage where most youngsters are still refining their ability to read pitchers, no one could slow Mateo down. Now that's both quantity and quality!
If you're looking for negatives in Mateo's game, you could point to his defense. He committed 30 errors at shortstop last season. However, many scouts see these struggles as growing pains for a kid trying to adjust to playing a full season. His glove could be good enough to stick at short long-term. Mateo frequently draws comparisons to Billy Hamilton, but the Yankees believe he can distinguish himself by maintaining a decent infield glove. Remember, Hamilton was a shortstop until he reached Triple-A.
Mateo's bat also has room to grow. Though his offensive numbers were respectable, he didn't hit for much power (.115 ISO). However, Mateo has decent size (6'0", 190 lbs) and his powerful frame suggests he might be able to develop double-digit HR power. If you're swiping 80 bags, 10 homers is more than a cherry on top.
Of course, most Yankee fans know Mateo's name from midseason trade discussions. Depending on whom you ask, the Yankees were varying degrees of close to shipping him off to San Diego in exchange for Craig Kimbrel and Jedd Gyorko. Jon Heyman was the first to report the talks, claiming on July 29 that the Yankees liked Mateo too much and nixed the deal. However, he followed that report two days later by asserting San Diego was the one to back out. Which one of the sides was willing to pull the trigger, we might never know. But if Mateo is valued highly enough to bring back the best right-handed reliever in baseball, he must be pretty damn special.
Although he's still a long way away, he's has an elite skill and has sufficient physical projectability. He's athletic yet gangly. Expect him to grow into his body as he matures.
It's worth reiterating that the player comp that immediately comes to mind with Mateo is Billy Hamilton. Both have unlimited speed (although Hamilton's on a whole other planet), swing lefty, lack pop, and hit minor league pitching at a .280 clip. In fact, Hamilton's age-20, A-ball stats were nearly identical to Mateo's. Although Hamilton has even more speed than Mateo, Jorge should hit for better power.
If we're sticking with infielders, check out the season Everth Cabrera had in 2013. Although he played in just 95 games, the Padre batted .285/.355/.381 with 37 steals, 25 XBH and 41 walks. Extrapolated to a full season, that's 64 steals, 43 XBH, and 77 walks. That phenomenal showing represents an optimistic projection of Mateo's potential.
The Yankees have a quality, young major league shortstop in Didi Gregorius. Still, their system lacks middle infield depth. Tyler Wade is the only other real shortstop prospect and he's also 20. If Mateo continues his trajectory, he will zoom to the front of the line. However, the same potential that makes him so enticing for the Yankees makes him a prime trade target. Surely, other clubs will be a-callin' and a-inquirin'. Although Cashman has indicated he'd really like to keep Mateo, I'm not convinced he's entirely untouchable. Should the Yankees and Padres revisit Kimbrel talks this winter, I wouldn't be terribly surprised if Mateo is sent westward.
Jorge Mateo is bursting with potential. Soberingly, however, we must remind ourselves that he's only 20 and still has three minor league levels to climb. He'll likely start next season at High-A Tampa but he could certainly play his way into a midseason promotion.
It's about time we had another Jorge worth cheering for.