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A Middle Infield Winston Abreu?

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The Rays organization has become loaded with middle infielders who can more than hold their own at the pate. The current starters, Ben Zobrist and Jason Bartlett, have emerged as two of the game's top hitters year-to-date. Switch-hitting Willie Aybar is as talented a reserve infielder as there is today with a slash line of .285/.380/.479. Recently the Rays received word that last year's leadoff man and this year's opening day second baseman Aki Iwamura would return in a few months from what was believed to have been a certain season ending knee injury.

In the farm system the Rays have two former first round draft picks and top shortstop prospects in Reid Brignac (AAA) and Tin Beckham (A). In an already crowded house, there may be one more name you can add to the list. I give you Henry Mateo. Old man Mateo? Don't laugh, just follow me.

Henry Mateo is a 32 year old switch-hitting middle infielder who at one time was selected by the Expos in the second round of the 1995 amateur draft. From 2001-2006, Mateo spent time bouncing back and forth between the Expos/Nationals and AAA. His career major league slash line is .233/.289/.292. His 05-Present Minor League Slash is is .254/.329/.356. Enter the Rays. On May 24, the now 32 year old Mateo was signed to the Durham Bulls. Whatever was in the water of Zobrist, Brignac and Bartlett must have found its way into Mateo's. Mateo has mostly hit leadoff for the Bulls and has put up a line of .320/.420/.466 over his 1st 161 plate appearances. Mateo still has decent speed and his swiped 7 bags in 8 attempts. Has anything truly changed for this roster filling acquisition or is this yet another case of a Small Sample Size?

I would argue there is a chance something has changed with Henry Mateo. Mateo's walk rate in his 280 major league plate appearances is 6.2%. In 2007 with the Tigers AAA affiliate, Mateo had a career high BB% of 9.9%. Not surprisingly that was his best season. Now at 32, Mateo has walked 15.5% of the time with no help from any unintentional walks. The increase in walks has been accompanied by an increase in slugging. His BB/K is at a tight .96 where .62 was his previous high with a career mark of .55. Put simply, Mateo is seeing the ball better and waiting for his pitch.

Patience has been a recurring theme of my recent posts. I decided to pull some major league comps of players who have made similar leaps in BB rates compared to the change in their slugging %. I looked at BB% leaders in 2009 down through those with a 12% walk rate. I found 4 comps who made similar leaps at some point in their careers: Ben Zobrist, Carlos Pena, Marco Scutaro, and Jason Bay. That's not to say Henry is on par with these players, just that they experienced similar adjustments in plate discipline. Remember, they made their adjustment in MLB, Mateo in AAA. There would certainly be another steep adjustment in the big show.

 

Jason Bay

BB%

SLG

OSw%

ZSw%

2007

9.90%

0.418

22.10%

65.30%

2008

12.30%

0.522

20.90%

57.90%

2009

14.30%

0.535

19.20%

62.40%

Scutaro

BB%

SLG

OSg%

Z Sg%

2007

9.4%

      0.361

15.5%

63.9%

2008

9.9%

      0.356

15.4%

63.4%

2009

14.2%

      0.414

11.4%

55.5%

Zobrist

BB%

SLG

OSg%

Z Sg%

2007

3.0%

      0.206

26.7%

59.7%

2008

11.2%

      0.505

17.8%

61.8%

2009

17.2%

      0.632

17.5%

59.4%

Pena

BB%

SLG

OSg%

Z Sg%

2005

10.7%

      0.477

26.3%

76.1%

2007

17.4%

      0.627

19.8%

71.1%

2008

16.4%

      0.494

20.8%

70.7%

2006 omitted due to SSS of 36 PA

 

With the Ray's surplus of middle infield talent, it is highly unlikely you'll see Mateo in a Rays uniform. The only scenario I could see was if Aybar was injured. That being said if a team with no chance of reaching the playoffs is willing to trade one of their top 15 prospects for a 32 year old reliever with no major league success to his name, could the same not be said of a 32 year old switch-hitting middle infielder who is having career best results in part to being a more patient hitter? Here's to hoping some front office out there is willing to Free Mateo!