Ravel Santana was one of the most gifted athletes to ever play in the Yankees’ farm system. Unfortunately he suffered a devastating ankle injury and never fully recovered. He was drafted in the rule 5 minor league component and was released one year later.
While Santana’s story may serve as a cautionary tale of getting too excited about young prospects at low levels, it was a freak injury that is relatively uncommon amongst baseball players. While I continue to lament on what could have been with Santana, the Yankees now have a similarly talented player in the lower levels who will likely start the season in Charleston next year.
His name is Jorge Mateo, and he’s a shortstop with amazing tools.
Contract: Signed for just $250,000 in 2012
So far in his career, Jorge Mateo has been an absolute beast statistically. In the year he signed, he played just 14 games as a 17 year old in the DSL, but held his own in his first action against real competition. He hit .255/.382/.382/.764 with a homerun, two doubles, and a triple. He stole four bases.
In his first full DSL season in 2013 he officially made a name for himself. He hit .287/.378/.450/.828 with seven homeruns, nine doubles, six triples, and 49 SB. All of this was in 64 games. He performed similarly well as a 19 year old in the GCL, where he played 15 games and hit .276/.354/.397/.750 with 11 SB, five doubles and a triple. His season was cut short by a minor wrist injury, but he was back at instructs and looked better than ever. While many people would argue that Jorge Mateo has already broken out, his potential is so high that he has not come close to hitting the huge prospect status that he is capable of.
While the performance has been great, what the Yankees really have in Mateo is a guy with five tools. He has speed, power, defense, arm, and a hit tool. He also is a patient hitter. All of his tools play up, and scouts were able to confirm that in the GCL. Despite not playing for most of the season, he was still named to the top prospects in the GCL.
Speed is the biggest tool Mateo possesses. He is lightning quick and has already developed the instincts to steal bases at a high rate. He also uses his quickness in the field to get to balls that other shortstops cannot get to.
In the field, Mateo is smooth and quick. He has excellent range, and the arm to make the throws to first on the balls he gets to. He is a sure bet to stick at shortstop long term, which makes him even more valuable.
In the batter’s box, Mateo displays superior patience. He lays off the bad pitches and swings at the good ones. He knows how to draw a walk, yet he knows when to take a hack at a good pitch to hit. For that reason, his contact tool plays up. He barrels the baseball well, and once the ball is in play his speed takes over, making him a difficult guy to throw out.
Aside from all of the other tools, Mateo can even hit for power. He showed the power in the DSL when he hit seven homeruns in 64 games. With time, the power should come along and we could be talking about a guy who can have an OPS more than .800 while stealing 50 bases.
Jorge Mateo will almost undoubtedly start 2015 in Charleston, where he will man shortstop for the RiverDogs. He will likely stay there all year, but it is possible the Yankees could move him up to High-A if he plays well enough. The only thing holding Mateo back will be himself, as the Yankees are unlikely to hold off on a promotion to the best shortstop in their system, regardless of who is ahead of him.
When you consider Mateo’s ceiling, you have to think about a guy like Jose Reyes in his prime. He’s a guy who will steal bases, but can hit the ball over the fence every now and then too. He plays primo defense to go along with his offensive prowess. He has legitimate all-star potential, and potentially superstar potential if things work out well for him.
The floor is a utility infielder who can sub in late in the game for defense and pinch running duties if needed. Ultimately this is a huge floor when you’re talking about a guy who’s highest level is the GCL, so don’t take that lightly.
Make no mistake about it, Jorge Mateo is a potential star in the minor leagues. He is as likely as any Yankees prospect to end up on the top 100 prospects list after 2015. I would also be shocked if he isn’t a top five prospect in the system by the end of next year. He is truly a gifted athlete who has everything. He is a magnificent player to have in the system, and could prove to be a prospect star in the coming years.