Mateo making strides at short, O's juggle roster amidst injuries

Jorge Mateo bounced around for his entire career. 

In 2016, Mateo was ranked the 30th best prospect in baseball as a member of the New York Yankees organization. The speedster was traded to Oakland in 2017, and was traded once again to San Diego in 2020. 

That year, the shortstop finally made his debut for the Padres. Except, that season, he didn’t play a single game at the position he came up playing through the minor leagues. Mateo played seven games in the outfield, five games at second base, and spent four games as a designated hitter. 

The 2021 season was no different. Mateo spent most of his time in center field for the Padres, and upon being claimed by the Orioles, played mostly second base.

This year, however, Mateo finally got his chance. The pieces fell into place for Mateo to be an every day starter at just one position; shorstop. And so far, the 26-year-old has taken full advantage of that opportunity. 

“Huge strides defensively,” said manager Brandon Hyde. “The consistent routine he’s doing every single day, it’s really, really helping him."

"Working hard every day, taking the practice to the game, that’s the key,” added Mateo. 

According to FanGraphs, Mateo’s defensive value is already at 2.9 for the year. In 89 games last season, that number was all the way down at -1.1. His DRS (defensive runs saved) has taken a massive leap as well, as Mateo boasts 5 DRS after posting just 1 DRS in 2021. In fact, FanGraphs advanced metrics rated him as a negative player both offensively and defensively a year ago. But this year, he is well into the positive side of those metrics on both sides of the ball. 

Those consistent reps seem to have made the biggest difference for the young infielder. “Getting those reps every day, that can make you more comfortable,” Mateo said. 

Believe it or not, Mateo’s range has also significantly improved. Despite always having the speed tool in his pocket, his range was well below average a season ago. This year, Mateo is using that speed to his advantage, with an above average range at short.

“He’s so athletic, and his tools are off the charts,” added Hyde. “Playing nine innings of shortstop defense almost every single game at this level, which he hasn’t done in a long time … he’s taken it and run with it.”

“The range is just about the read of the bat,” Mateo said. “I think (those reads) have helped me a lot with my range this year.” 

Mateo has occasionally struggled with making the routine plays, committing four errors so far this season. But his positive progression has far outweighed his occasional struggles. The Orioles lead the American League in double plays turned this season, and the shortstop has obviously played a huge part in that. Mateo has been a part of 25 of those double plays, starting 18 of them.

“He’s gonna make the flashy play because of his range and his arm and how athletic he is,” noted Hyde. “The good shortstops, the ball is to the shortstop and you’re out.”

With Mateo’s development, the O’s may have found themselves just that; a good shortstop that they can rely on. 

Even with Mateo out of the lineup, the O’s added another speed element today, recalling Ryan McKenna from Triple-A Norfolk. With Austin Hays banged up, McKenna provides some quality defensive outfield depth. 

Regarding Hays, Brandon Hyde said that “he’s doing better. It’s (the left hand) pretty cut up, got him in three spots on his hand and it’s tender still. Hopefully he becomes a little bit more available in the next couple of days.” 

In the meantime, Baltimore turns to McKenna, who gets the start in left field today. It could be a good chance for McKenna to get some more consistent reps, similar to what he experiences in Norfolk. That’s something he hasn’t had in the majors.

“It’s been a weird few years,” McKenna said. “Regular playing time is at a premium, so just getting that was huge.” 

The O’s also get Ramón Urías back in the lineup after missing the last few games. The pain popped up during the first game in St. Louis, and Urías doesn’t know how it started, but it’s gone now. Pinch hitting in last night’s game was the first time that he actually took swings, but Urías “didn’t feel any pain.” 

Just about an hour before the game, the O’s claimed RHP Beau Sulser off of waivers from the Pirates. Sulser has a 3.72 ERA in four relief appearances for the Pirates this year. He also made three starts in Triple-A Indianapolis, posting a 2.13 ERA with 14 strikeouts in 12.2 innings. Veteran lefty Paul Fry was designated for assignment. 

Strong pitching continues, as does struggling offe...
Claim Sulser, DFA Fry

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