Is Jorge Mateo the Yankees Centerfielder of the Future?

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New York Yankees prospect Jorge Mateo‘s transition to centerfield in the Fall Instructional League was reportedly very successful, and he will continue to see time at the position going into 2017.

The glut of talented shortstops in the New York Yankees minor league system has forced the organization to get creative to find ways to get them all into the lineup.

For example, the High-A Tampa Yankees had four different legitimate shortstop prospects play for them in 2016, Gleyber Torres, Jorge Mateo, Abiatal Avelino, and Thairo Estrada. Even with 10 minor league affiliates (the most of any MLB club), there are simply not enough shortstop jobs to go around.

It’s also worth remembering that the big league club already has an excellent young shortstop at the big league level in Didi Gregorius who is controlled for another three seasons.

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That has led to the Yankees exploring alternative positions for some of these top prospects. Gleyber Torres has been playing some second base in the Arizona Fall League to increase his flexibility and Tyler Wade has seen his first professional action in the outfield.

Most notable, however, may be Jorge Mateo’s move to centerfield during the Fall Instructional League, as it is starting to look like that switch may become a permanent one.

At the annual General Managers’ Meetings, Brian Cashman told Brendan Kuty of NJ Advance Media that Mateo’s first game action in center went very well, and he will continue working at the position going into next year.

"Yeah, I think it’s something we’ll continue to look at. He’s athletic as hell. In the instructional league, it was very easy for him. So, if that’s a direction that we with him in conversations choose to go, it’s something he’ll be very good at."

Mateo is still rough around the edges at shortstop, which isn’t unusual for a player his age (he’s still just 21). He’s made 47 errors in 161 games at the position over the last two seasons. That isn’t to say that he couldn’t stick at short long-term with some more work, but he’s not as polished defensively as many of the team’s other shortstop prospects.

Playing center is probably the way to put Mateo’s plus-plus-plus speed (MLB Pipeline gives it an 80 grade) to its best use. He has a pretty strong arm too, which should make him a fantastic all-around outfielder once he gets some more experience under his belt.

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Unfortunately for Mateo, the Yankees have a ton of potential centerfielders in the majors and the upper-minors as well. Incumbent Jacoby Ellsbury is under contract until 2020, and Aaron Hicks, Mason Williams, Clint Frazier, Jake Cave, and Dustin Fowler are in line behind him.

Still, none of those guys have Mateo’s superstar potential. If he can rebound from a poor 2016 and put together a strong campaign with Double-A Trenton, Mateo could make a push for Ellsbury’s job at some point during the 2018 season.