Mateo Turning Heads

Shortstop is a demanding position that requires a tremendous amount of athleticism and field awareness. If anyone can handle the challenge, it's Jorge Mateo. Despite missing a good chunk of time in 2014, the spry 18-year-old from Santo Domingo has been quietly turning heads after an impressive stint in the Dominican Summer League last year and a blazing start with the Gulf Coast Yankees.

Even though he only checks in at six feet, 188 pounds, Mateo has a presence on the field. Offensively, his size is advantageous, as he is capable of hitting both for power and contact. Last season in the Dominican Republic, Mateo carried his team with seven home runs while also hitting a very respectable .287. He's also proven himself a bona fide thief on the basepaths, stealing 49 bases last year to lead the Dominican League. Aside from stealing bases, Mateo also uses his wheels to turn ordinary grounders into hits and shallowly hit singles into doubles.

Defensively, Mateo has the intangibles that every GM is looking for in a shortstop. He clearly has speed, evidenced by his premier base running ability, and his tactical positioning is flat out impressive.

For example, in a game against the GCL Braves this summer prior to his hand injury that kept him out of action for nearly seven weeks, Mateo brought his fellow teammates to their collective feet with a dazzling defensive play. During a critical juncture of the game [two outs and a runner in scoring position], an erratic ball was drilled towards third baseman Drew Bridges and ricocheted off the leather of his glove. Without even blinking, Mateo instinctively snatched the ball from the ground and fired a bullet of a throw to first baseman Dalton Smith. The umpire pumped his first emphatically, signaling that the runner was out and the inning was over. Thanks to Mateo, the Yankees escaped the jam.

Count Manager Travis Chapman among those excited to monitor Mateo's development. Chapman praised his intangibles and believes Mateo has raw essentials that will only continue to improve with diligence and hard work.

"He's a very dynamic player," Chapman said. "He can run, he can hit, he can play defense. He's very smart. It's just refining the tools to allow him to be successful and produce day in and day out."

For Mateo, outside of dealing with his first injury, life in the United States has gone swimmingly so far. Beyond impressing teammates and coaches so far in the Gulf Coast League, Mateo is enjoying the cultural transition and elevation of skill level here in Florida.

"It went well," he said of his first Extended Spring Training through a translator. "It's been a good experience for me. I'm mainly focused on the things I can control and not worrying about the things I can't control."

Coming to a new place and aiming to gel with new teammates can often times cause players to get off to slow starts. Mateo, it seems, is as adaptable as they come. In his first 14 games prior to injuring his hand, Mateo was hitting a torrid .320 with 16 hits and two doubles. Though he hadn't blasted any home runs, Mateo has flashed a beautiful swing and has proven that he can at least hit for contact and carve out smart AB's. His motor was also on display, given that he had eleven stolen bases in his first ten games.

When asked of the biggest reason for his success, Mateo stressed that it stems from hard work and a relatively straightforward approach.

“The biggest reason for my success is basically just looking for a good pitch to hit. I’m trying to work hard and do the best I can,” he said.

Having a productive Extended Spring Training was crucial for Mateo [as it is for any young player] so that he could fly right out of the gates when the regular season started. According to Chapman, Mateo was focused on having solid consistency.

“Being consistent [was his focus]," Chapman said. "Throwing together consistent at-bats, fielding ground balls consistently, communicating with his infielders, and working on potentially being a captain later on."

Given his aforementioned stats to start this season, it appears that consistency is paying off.

Despite his hot start and immense potential, his coaches caution the young player to stay focused and not lose hold of his routine mindset.

“He needs to be able to handle both success and failure," Chapman added. "If he can become that guy he’s going to be one heck of a player a few years from now up in New York. Right now we’re concentrating on helping him swing at quality pitches and have consistent at-bats."

Mateo’s development will be interesting to keep an eye on in the coming years. He will certainly be challenged as he ascends the rungs of the farm system and has to battle pitchers with sharper, more breaking pitches. As Chapman mentioned before, however, Mateo certainly has the skill set and ability to do it.

For Mateo, the goal is clear. He’s in the early stages of his journey, but feels every day brings about new successes.

“My goal is to stay focused day in and day out. This is a grind. Having the right mental preparation before every game is the key,” he remarked."

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