Yankees Jorge Mateo is Making a Career-Threatening Decision

Mar 10, 2016; Sarasota, FL, USA; New York Yankees shortstop Jorge Mateo (93) makes it back to second base before the tag from Baltimore Orioles second baseman Ryan Flaherty (3) during the seventh inning at Ed Smith Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Butch Dill-USA TODAY Sports
Mar 10, 2016; Sarasota, FL, USA; New York Yankees shortstop Jorge Mateo (93) makes it back to second base before the tag from Baltimore Orioles second baseman Ryan Flaherty (3) during the seventh inning at Ed Smith Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Butch Dill-USA TODAY Sports /

Robert Browning once wrote that “A man’s reach should exceed his grasp.” This is usually good advice for life. And I suspect that the Yankees Jorge Mateo is a big fan of Mr. Browning’s as he has been applying this maxim to his professional choices. This decision, however, might undo his baseball career.

The Yankees used to think Jorge Mateo was their future shortstop and lead off hitter. His speed numbers are off the charts, and he is too fast what Aaron Judge is to power. But Mateo is trying to be all he can be, and that might be the end of Mateo.

When Mateo came into the Yankees organization, he flashed his primary weapon: speed. He played only 14 games in 2012 and stole four bases; he also worked 12 walks. A small sample size to be certain but it starts the story well. If we multiply his games by 10 to project his skills, it comes out to 120 walks and 40 stolen bases in 140 games. That is an excellent snapshot of the beginning of a career.

Picture This

And the picture of Jorge Mateo as a future Yankees player came much more into focus in 2013. He played in 64 games that year and hit .287.378/.450. Mateo also flashed some power by belting seven home runs; not bad for the then 18-year-old. Of course, you always have to wonder if any of those were of the inside the park variety.

That is not meant to denigrate the accomplishment, only to try to identify if it was his speed or power that was the reason.

And, more importantly, he stole 49 bases and had 34 walks. To get a projection from this season, we only have to double the number of games. That means he would hit 14 home runs, walk 38 times and steal 98 bases in 128 games.

Now, of those accomplishments, which ones would you focus on?

Hold that thought

A wrist injury limited Jorge to only 15 games in 2014. His slash line has little value because hitting can slump at any time. But speed never slumps, and that was certainly true for Mateo. He managed to work seven walks and swipe 11 bags. Using our multiplier of ten again, that projects to 70 walks and 110 stolen bases in 150 games. Wow.

It was in 2015, however, that the Yankees could clearly see their future star, their future lead-off hitter, running towards the Bronx. He played 117 games. His slash was slightly less impressive: .278/.345/.392. And his home runs had shrunk to two. And this time I know one of them was the inside the park variety.

But, my God, his speed numbers were off the charts as he was awarded 43 bases and stole 82 more; that’s 125 bases without ever swinging the bat. Jorge Mateo led the world in stolen bases that year. Not his team, not his league or all the minors, not even Major League Baseball; Jorge Mateo led the WORLD.

Yankees Feel the Need

And he did not just lead to the crime of taking the most bags…he also led in making everyone else who plays the game look slow. But please don’t take my word for it; see for yourself:

It was on the back of that performance that Mateo became one of the top prospects in baseball and it’s most exciting. And the glowing reviews came pouring in:

"When you consider Mateo’s ceiling, you have to think about a guy like Jose Reyes in his prime. He’s a guy who will steal bases, but can hit the ball over the fence every now and then too. He plays primo defense to go along with his offensive prowess. He has legitimate all-star potential, and potentially superstar potential if things work out well for him."

Run To Glory

Do you still have that thought from a moment ago? Well, as your mom used to say, you’ve got another think coming, and here it is: what would you focus on in 2016? Your batting average and power numbers, or your OBP and your speed?

Mateo should have chosen speed. He should have spent that off-season learning how to choke up on the bat. Understanding the nuances of the Baltimore Chop should have been his homework. Crouching at the plate to squeeze the strike zone would have been a great skill to add. And above all to tell himself every day that he is going to try to steal as many bases as he can and put as much pressure on the opposing team as possible.

Mandatory Credit: Butch Dill-USA TODAY Sports /

That would have been an off-season well spent. Instead, he decided to focus on his hitting. Let’s see how that worked out.

In 2016, and in roughly the same number of games, Mateo worked 33 walks. That is still okay but is a 25% decrease from the prior season. And he only swiped 36 bags, less than half of his previous total. That would be fine if his power and slash went way up—they didn’t. He finished last season hitting .254/.306/.379 with eight home runs.

Praise Stops Pouring In

Jorge Mateo was no longer one of the most exciting prospects in baseball. And I have not even mentioned his less-than Jeteresque attitude. Why do so many players say they want to be like Derek Jeter and then immediately do things The Man himself would never do? Sorry, that’s an article for another day.

More from Yanks Go Yard

Apparently, Mateo was trying to reach well beyond his abilities.

You see, I have not come to praise Mateo but to bury him. And in this case, it means hide his face in a movie: Major League (1989). It might not be the best baseball movie ever made (now that’s an article for another day!), but it still contains some sage advice.

I am talking directly to you, Jorge, because I suspect you read my stuff. Here’s the moral for you: don’t try to be Willie Mays, try to be Willie Mays Hays. You need to stop trying to be the best player in baseball and get back to being the fastest player in baseball. And maybe you can star in a commercial, too—that will make sense when you see the film.

Or Maybe A Vampire Hunter

No one can blame Jorge for wanting to see just how great he can be. If he could have hit .300 and swatted 20 home runs, I would be his biggest fan. But he tried it, and it did not work. Now, it is decision time for Mr. Mateo.

He can decide to go back to focusing on his feet instead of his bat. And it just so happens the Yankees could use a lead-off hitter who is also the fastest man in baseball. Even if he is not ready for the 2017 New York Yankees, the 2018 version will need him as will the 2019 Yankees, and the…again, you get the point.

But no team needs an average hitter, at best, who steals fewer bases than Jacoby Ellsbury did in 2013. Once again, I have not even mentioned the attitude problems.

It’s simple. Jorge Mateo can decide to be a fleet of foot star, or he can try to be a superstar, and wind up telling stories to everyone he works with down at the office about he used to be a big-time prospect. I only know what I, and most Yankees fans, want him to do.

I just hope he watches the right Wesley Snipes film or Mateo might end up the biggest basketball hustler on the west coast.