Exclusive Prospect Interview: SS Jorge Mateo – Yankees
The New York Yankees have always been known to “buy players”, in other words the Yankees have never been afraid to jump in and make major splashes in regards to free agent spending. However, the Yankees did have major success in the farm system in the mid 1990s era. They built around the core 4– Derek Jeter, Andy Pettitte, Mariano Rivera and Jorge Posada. Had Bernie Williams not retired early, we may have added him to that class. Fast forward to 2016, the Yankees golden era seems like its come to an end. The 2016 season has been filled with struggles, but they may have the pieces to build from the farm system once again, in the near future.
Led by Aaron Judge (OF), Gary Sanchez (C), Greg Bird (1B), and Rob Refsnyder (2B), the Yankees future looks bright. With below average production from the Yankees shortstop, the answer may be in Tampa, Florida. The Tampa Yankees hold several top prospects, but one Latin American stand out. Ranked #1 is shortstop Jorge Mateo who was signed out of the Dominican Republic and the Yankees are no strangers to international Latin signings as Luis Severino, young MLB starter, was also signed out of the Dominican Republic.
On May 22, 2016 I spoke with Mateo about his journey through baseball and the Yankees organization.
The 20-year-old Mateo is a Dominican native. He shared what it was like growing up, “I thank God every day for every opportunity I’ve ever had growing up as a kid– it allowed me to work on a daily basis in order to achieve my dream of playing professional baseball. I idolized Derek Jeter for his actions on and off the field.”
Ironically, he was signed by the Yankees in 2012, and after being signed for $225,000, Mateo hadn’t drawn much attention across the league. But that didn’t change how special this moment was for him, “Playing for the Yankees was like a dream, I could grow behind my favorite player and maybe one day play side by side with him.”
Unfortunately, the Captain’s playing days are over, but for Mateo this was just the beginning. He spent his first two years as a professional baseball player in the Dominican Summer League. While in the DSL, his average hovered around .280 with 8 HRs and 34 RBIs. What truly set him apart was his impressive athleticism and quickness. In 78 games, Mateo recorded 53 stolen bases.
His only obstacle to overcome was the transition from the Dominican Republic to the United States, “I knew the transition would be tough, but learning English was something that I knew would be important. It became my priority. After that I knew I would have to adjust to American culture and standards. Originally, I was a Latino who couldn’t ask for help or really communicate, but I’ve done my best to learn as much as possible.”
From that moment forward, Mateo made it clear he had all the tools to be a force in the league. His bat really came alive in the latter part of the 2015 season, hitting .268 while playing for Charleston, but when called up to play for the Tampa Yankees he lit up George Steinbrenner Field batting .321. Once Mateo gets on base, a stolen base is almost a given. He racked up an eye-opening 82 stolen bases in the 2015 season, which would lead the Minors.
In 2016, Mateo was given a non-roster invite to Spring Training. There he hit .235, which was no disappointment– there is plenty of room for growth for this young man. He took it all in and enjoyed every second, “I was very proud and excited to put on the Yankee uniform during Spring Training. I got the opportunity to represent my family and make them proud. Players like Alex Rodriguez, Carlos Beltran, and Didi Gregorius really helped me settle in here with the other big leaguers.”
He reflected on being ranked the top prospect in the Yankees organization, “It’s an honor to be able to represent the Yankees, I love this organization and hope to grow here. But when it comes to the rankings, I try not to pay attention to it. I come to work every day giving it my all. I keep my same routines and focus on being a better player and always help my team win.”
He would look to put up similar numbers in Tampa. As May comes to an end, Mateo is playing at an even higher level than before. Batting .313 (3rd), with 5 HRs (2nd) and 27 RBIs (T-2nd), Mateo is at the top of most offensive categories for the Tampa Yankees. Not to mention, he’s ranked 2nd is stolen bases in all of the Florida State League with 15 steals in just 41 games.
Mateo has all the tools to be the future long-term star as the New York Yankees shortstop. It is very unlikely we see him in the Majors this year or even next with Didi Gregorius there now, but Yankee fans should all be screaming “Hip-Hip-JORGE!” in excitement about the future with Mateo in the pack of new comers.
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