Every year teams ask for the best and brightest young talent when making trades as they aim for the future. This year, teams like the Phillies have already asked the Yankees about Aaron Judge and Luis Severino in a trade for Cole Hamels. Putting a major focus on their farm system, Brian Cashman said no, and made clear that Judge, Severino, Greg Bird, and Jorge Mateo are all untouchable from any kind of trade this year. While it makes sense not to want to move Judge, Severino, or Bird with them so close to the majors, many have questioned why Mateo would be included in that group. Right now, Mateo is a 20-year-old shortstop in Low-A Charleston with 70 stolen bases, but also 21 errors in the field and a .742 OPS. What gives?
In a bubble, it might make sense to make Mateo available since he's getting tons of prospect attention without the offensive production that might warrant it. He gets a lot of praise because of his plus-speed, but he isn't exactly showing himself off as a piece the Yankees can't trade if the right deal came along. The thing is, though, is that prospects are not always viewed in a bubble and when Mateo is seen against the backdrop of the greater Yankees system, it's easy to see why they want to hang onto him for the moment. Despite a few names that have made their way into a few prospect lists, the organization is pretty devoid of intriguing shortstop prospects.
Aside from Mateo, maybe the team's best shortstop prospect is Tyler Wade. At High-A Tampa, the 20-year-old has hit .293/.354/.367, which is actually worse than Mateo's production. Maybe he steals around 20 bases by the end of the season, but he could end the year with upwards of 30 or more errors as he's already eclipsed his 2014 total of 22, and has spent 20+ games at second base this year. There's also Abiatal Avelino, who briefly landed in the team's top 20 prospects a few years back, but hasn't done much since. His offensive output has markedly dropped year-over-year with a .780 OPS in 2013, .658 OPS in 2014, and .615 OPS in 2015 with a .576 OPS in High-A this season. He's also spent more time at second than short as he shares playing time with Wade at Tampa.
After that there's recent international signee Hoy Jun Park, who is just 19 in rookie ball and the recently drafted Kyle Holder in Staten Island, who has more question marks around him than anyone else in the Yankees' draft class. There's also no one in the upper levels of the minors, unless you count Cito Culver and Ali Castillo and you shouldn't. The Yankees need Mateo if they actually want a potentially serviceable shortstop to reach the upper levels of the minors.
On the major league side, Didi Gregorius might be signed through 2019, but he's no sure thing to be a long-term solution, even as he heads into his prime. It's hard to judge an acquisition within the first year, but so far Didi has offered only mixed results. After a poor April, he's picked things up to hit .251/.300/.347 over the next three months to bring his offensive output to respectable levels for a shortstop. However, while the Yankees might like his glove, they probably don't see him as the next Yankee great. All they need him to do is offer great defense and hit league-average for a shortstop and he's an effective stopgap for the time being. Until Jorge Mateo is ready.
At least that's the hope. Right now Mateo looks like the future at shortstop, but that doesn't mean he'll always be safe. Just because he's been deemed untouchable now, doesn't mean he won't be tradable in the future. For what the Yankees have now, Jorge Mateo is needed, but things can change. In fact, things always change. No one is safe forever, not Didi Gregorius, and not Mateo either, but the hope is that he'll either improve enough to make keeping him worthwhile, or improve just enough to get someone else to bite.