There were high hopes for Jorge Mateo going into 2016. At the time he was still the New York Yankees’ most prized prospect in the making, come the end of the season it seemed like he was shot out of Yankees’ Universe to most. Last season hit every string for Mateo, exhilarating, undoing, rejuvenating, and back to a plain underwhelming finish. Whether he showed it (publicly) or not, his frustration was certainly there for multiple reasons.
We’ve now started Spring Training of 2017 and Mateo’s name is being passed around more so in hypothetical trades instead of being the future for New York Yankees like before. So many are wondering, what are the Yankees to do with Mateo moving forward? The immediate rise of the Yankees’ newly-found top-rated farm system has many feeling the urgency to do more as spots are closing up all over the system. Nobody should have more urgency coming into the new season than Jorge Mateo, however.
For those that didn’t have the chance to follow Mateo as closely as they would’ve liked to last season, here’s a recap as someone who covered his team every day, on and off the field.
Mateo started 2016 on absolute fire, and it was looking to be a great season for the top prospect and a quick trip to Double-A Trenton. Mateo’s average didn’t drop below .290 until June 9th, and was over .320 as late at May 20th. He was very much a huge reason for the High-A Tampa Yankees clinching a playoff spot after the first half in the FSL. Their infield was a juggernaut that no team could overwhelm. Mateo, Miguel Andujar, Abiatal Avelino, and Billy Fleming started the heat for Tampa. However, all three would eventually get promoted before Mateo, and it did seem to cause some internal tension after some time.
Was Mateo expected to cool down after his start? Of course, every player does right around the time he did. However, the cool down lasted until the season ended overall. Aside from that, you then heard what really hurt Mateo’s image in the midst of his cooling point, that it is rumored he lobbied for a player getting pushed aside for his sake in order to be promoted to where he felt he deserved to be. Did Mateo’s play at the start of the season deserve a quick promotion? I’d say so, but these reports came out well after the fact that his hitting had been nearly non-existent and his play from the field hadn’t been exceptional either after the move to second, which seemed to be another cause for his discontent.
In Mateo’s defense, his play did offer a promotion, and it’d had already been a question (before the incident) as to why he hadn’t been in Trenton already. Keep in mind this was still when Mateo was seen as the top prospect for the Yankees. There was no Clint Frazier or Gleyber Torres, Mateo was seen as the bright future for the Yankees at SS or 2B. All of that went out the door with these accusations against Mateo, it showed his selfishness and the superiority he held himself to.
Could the story have been a bit much compared to what actually happened? Of course, but they also could’ve been true. There’s no way of knowing, but in better judgement it seems as if they were correct and enough was enough. No matter what happened, Mateo has an image to mend, which he did start to do towards the end of the season, but his play is what took the headlines after all else brushed away. The drop off wasn’t just a cool down, but he seemed to be a total non-factor for the team coming into every game, including the playoffs.
2016 was a lost season for Mateo, he now finds himself trying to play catch-up with all the other hype surrounding other prospects. News of him getting work in center field have started circulating, but it brings the question of why? The Yankees are stacked in the infield and outfield, it seems like more of a problem to try moving him to other positions rather than the one where he belongs. It doesn’t completely make sense does it? So what are the Yankees trying to do with Mateo? What should they do?
I think the answer has been clear since Gleyber Torres was brought into the equation. They need to move Mateo to get a legitimate starting pitcher. He’s still very well worth that kind of return, in no way is what’s being said is “Mateo isn’t a top prospect anymore”. The speed alone makes him a guy who will be given multiple chances no matter how he plays for years to come. It’s simply the fact that the Yankees don’t need him like they used to. This isn’t just because of Torres, there have been many others in line who are not only in higher levels, but still showing they’re not fading away any time soon. Of course, not every prospect is going to pan out. The Yankees will be happy if at least half of these guys make it to the majors and play key roles in the future. It’s more so that their starting pitching lot is still on an unknown side, and Mateo is the only prospect at the top of the ranks who’s future isn’t exactly clear as day right now.
Of course you then get to the off-field actions and how they come into play, you give the guys a break with some stuff. Remember they’re still kids and they’re still learning, but the Yankees ill-advised handling of Mateo also show me they don’t see a future for him at any other position (because of the little room they have).
The same has been shown with Rob Refsnyder, who should’ve been traded years ago. Both sides can come out of this happy, trade Mateo to a team who needs a shortstop or second baseman. He gets to progress and not waste his time toying around with other positions, and the Yankees (hopefully) get a rotation arm who moves into the future with Luis Severino, Luis Cessa, Bryan Mitchell, and whoever else comes into the picture.
A this point there is no other reason to keep Mateo, the only argument is not every prospect is going to live up to their potential, but why wait to see when you can trade for not only a position the Yankees so desperately need, but a more ‘sure’ prospect who is MLB or near-MLB ready. Looking forward to 2017, starting with Triple-A SWB, they are extremely stacked with their infield, followed by Double-A Trenton who are packed and about as good as they can get without Mateo. If you’re forcing Mateo into that picture it’s again hurting the progress of someone else when it doesn’t need to be. Beyond all of these facts, Mateo didn’t show he deserved a promotion by the end of the season, so why start him in Trenton?
Trading Mateo is something that can help the Yankees now with getting the right pitcher in return, instead of trying to force up prospects like James Kaprielian, Justus Sheffield, and Domingo Acevedo. It seems like the ideal move for both parties in more ways than just receiving a prospect in return. The Yankees should think about it soon, rather than waiting too long like they have with Rob Refsnyder.