Isaac Mattson could have competed for a spot in the Orioles bullpen as an invite to spring training, with his contract selected later. Breaking camp with the team would have remained a goal and a possibility.
Now he gets to try it as a member of the 40-man roster. Protected from the Rule 5 draft next month. The organization’s commitment to him more clearly defined.
Mattson was included among the six players added to the roster at Friday’s deadline. He’s been working out and wondering since the closure of the alternate camp site in Bowie.
“I think everybody kind of hopes they get that chance to be put on the 40-man. It’s not something that I knew was going to happen, but I was hopeful for it,” he said yesterday during a Zoom conference call with the media.
“I was happy with the progress I made down there at Bowie and was happy to get the chance to kind of join the team here on the 40-man.”
This is a notable gesture toward Mattson after the cancellation of the minor league season and the inability to gain more experience at Triple-A, where he made five appearances last year. He’s knocking on the door, but has confirmation now that he’s being heard.
“I think every year is important and every step is important,” he said. “This one was a big one for me and I’m thankful for all the people who have helped me get here, but the job’s not done and there’s still a little ways to go for me and I know the Orioles have their sights set on competing well in the East, so I hope to be able to contribute at that level.”
The Orioles acquired Mattson and minor league pitchers Kyle Bradish, Zach Peek and Kyle Brnovich from the Angels on Dec. 4, 2019 for starter Dylan Bundy. Mattson was the least familiar of the group to executive vice president/general manager Mike Elias, who relied more on reports and statistics that included a 2.33 ERA and a 1.009 WHIP last year in 37 relief appearances between Single-A-Inland Empire, Double-A Mobile and Triple-A Salt Lake.
Elias also noted how Mattson dominated in the Arizona Fall League, allowing two earned runs and striking out 12 batters in 10 2/3 innings. Impressive numbers just seem to follow him.
They’re tagging along as he changes coasts.
“It was tough not having games this year, but one of the big things that the Orioles did was allow us the opportunity to hop on some video calls throughout quarantine, and then once we finally got down to Bowie, it was really great to just spend time with those guys,” Mattson said.
“Even with us separated from the position players, I was still able to get to know the pitchers really well, and the coaches and the staff here are great, so I definitely feel more at home than I did about a year ago and I’m happy to be part of it.”
The Orioles are attracted to high strikeout rates and Mattson averaged 13.5 per nine innings last summer. He’s averaged 10.9 in three minor league seasons and fanned 19 batters in 9 1/3 innings at Triple-A Salt Lake.
The method appears simple on the surface. Keep attacking hitters and try to stay in the zone as much as possible. Execute first-pitch strikes and then perhaps go off-speed later in the count.
Set up hitters and put them away.
“The strikeouts never have really been the goal,” he said, “but putting myself in the position to be in control of that situation when it comes to battling hitters, I do my best with that.”
A summer spent at the secondary camp enabled Mattson, 25, to sharpen his second-best pitch. A valuable gain after being shut down.
“Probably the biggest area I improved was my slider,” he said. “Each year, I kind of have a project pitch and looking at the number that was something that could definitely improve for me, so as the year went on down in Bowie it was great to get the progress we had and use the technology and get with coaches and try to find out the best way to attack guys with it. And then by the end of it I was super-comfortable going to it consistently and I was just happy with that progress.
“Just being more comfortable in a new setting really helped out.”
Mattson’s fastball usually sits in the 90-94 mph range with a high spin rate. He can command it and not obsess over the readings on the radar gun.
“It never hurts to have more velocity,” he said, “but kind of looking at things, I was happy with the way we were able to manipulate some of the pre-pitch stuff with our training staff and our strength coaches and that’s helped out a lot as far as being able to sustain high velocities and then being able to recover and come back that next day and be ready.”