The Tampa Bay Rays have made an interesting acquisition, trading cash considerations to the Arizona Diamondbacks for the recently designated right-handed hitter Wyatt Mathisen.
The 27-year old was the 69th overall pick in the 2012 draft out of high school, and didn’t begin to pop on offense until he repeated High-A in 2016 in the Pirates organization, but went unused at the major league level and eventually elected free agency following the 2018 season.
Mathisen signed with the Diamondbacks as a minor league free agent and dominated in 2019 with a 139 wRC+ and 23 homeruns, but was not promoted until the pandemic shortened season. Between his cups of coffee in 2020 and 2021, Mathesin has a career .159 average and .298 OBP over 32 games (89 plate appearances) with three home runs.
Drafted with the intent of becoming a catcher, Mathisen found he cared far more about hitting than calling balls and strikes, and decided to take his defensive talents elsewhere on the field. The problem is that he’s yet to find a home. The Pirates made him a light hitting third baseman, and with age he’s finally come into power, but nothing is set defensively.
After time at third and in left, the Diamondbacks limited Mathisen to first base this year. In other words, the Rays have announced Mathisen as an INF/OF less for his positional utility and more for his positional ambiguity. Unless the Rays plan to trade him to the Rangers (who based on past trades with the Rays don’t seem to care where guys might play), the fit is not clear in the short term or the long.
Any way you slice it, Mathisen is being brought in for his bat, but even that makes for somewhat of an awkward situation.
Beyond Yandy Diaz, the Rays already have two other right-handed hitting likely corner infielders who need major league reps: Kevin Padlo and Mike Brosseau. The former is a pure corner infielder more liked by the old guard scouts than the new, while the latter is an astute utility defender that hasn’t found even footing in a part time role, a legendary homerun aside.
Tampa Bay’s depth is further complicated by the slew of prospects in Triple-A Durham who are knocking on the door of the majors: switch-hitting stars Wander Franco, Taylor Walls, and Vidal Brujan all project to be mid-year promotions in a convenient six weeks from now. That gives Mathisen only a couple weeks to both break into the majors and prove he’s worth keeping around if he is to have a fair shot.
But the Rays know this. They are not acquiring Mathisen without also calculating how much time he’d need in the big leagues to see if his promising Triple-A bat can translate, whether that timeline fits the development window of the high priority prospects, and whether they can make room on the depth chart for him to get that chance.
40-man roster spots are scarce enough right now that the Rays traded a high performing bullpen arm to the Angels in Hunter Strickland, and opted to designate Kevan Smith off the roster when it wasn’t yet required (Mathisen is the 39th man on the roster following his acquisition).
So what can you expect?
I would anticipate the Rays know having four short end of the platoon corner infielders is not the ideal way to construct a 40-man roster, and with names like Roe, Drake, and Archer preparing to be activated off the 60-Day Injured List, it would seem the Strickland and Mathisen deals are not the only trades coming our way before the end of May.
UPDATE - The Rays have designated Mathisen to make room for Wander Franco on the 40-man roster, just over a month after his acquisition. Mathisen had a 129 wRC+ over 18 games with Triple-A Durham.