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2020 Arizona Diamondbacks Reviews #25: Wyatt Mathisen

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If the D-Backs were supersaiyans, we could try to fuse Mathisen and Cron.

Los Angeles Dodgers v Arizona Diamondbacks Photo by Norm Hall/Getty Images
  • Rating: 4.33
  • Age: 26
  • 2020 stats: 33 PA, .222/.364/.444 = .808 OPS, 116 OPS+, 0.1 bWAR
  • 2020 salary: $563,500, $68,530 earned
  • 2021 status: 1 minor league option remaining, under team control until 2027

Introduction

“It’s common for a high school catcher to have to move to another position as a pro. Mathisen is the opposite, a player who’s played elsewhere for his high school team who almost certainly will go back behind the plate as a pro.”

That is what the 2012 draft report on Wyatt Mathisen said and with the 69th pick in the draft he became part of the Pittsburgh Pirates’ organization.

He was a well regarded draft pick and fangraphs ranked him #6 in 2013, ahead of players like Tyler Glasnow and Josh Bell, in a pretty good Pittsburgh’ farm system, and mentioned:

“After playing a few positions as a prep star (catcher, shortstop, pitcher), Mathisen has settled back behind the plate but is behind in his defensive development. He’s athletic with a very strong arm so he has the tools necessary to succeed behind the plate.”

Perhaps the tools were present, but that did not work out well at all.

An interesting fangraphs article on Wyatt Mathisen in 2013 tells about the defensive and offensive struggles of the young Texan:

“I care about my hitting,” Mathisen said in the article. “But not as much as I care about how my catching and pitching staff are doing.”

Jack Sommers wrote the rest of the story in January 2019: “[the Pirates] moved him to 3rd base starting in 2014...he hit for decent batting averages, usually around .270-.280, but with very little power...”

Mathisen was released by the Pirates in November 2018 and signed a minor league contract with the Diamondbacks a couple of weeks later. He spent the entire 2019 season in AAA with Reno where, like Isaiah Burrows explained us in July 2020, he made an adjustment to his stance and swing. It apparently worked out well: Mathisen might not have had a lights out performance in Reno like Yasmany Tomas or Kevin Cron, but with an OPS above 1.000 he did enough for the D-Backs to add him to the 40-man roster in 2019 to protect him from the Rule 5 draft. As such, it was only a matter of time for him to make his debut in the MLB and that opportunity came on September 7, 2020, like Jim wrote: “more than eight years and over 2,500 minor-league plate appearances after having been drafted by the Pirates in the second round of the 2012 draft.”

2020 review

It was thus a remarkable feat to get the call up to the major leagues, but Mathisen had a debut to forget with 2 strike outs in 4 at bats.

Mathisen struggled heavily in his first 6 games as a D-Back batting 0.111 at 3B and as a DH, although the stat could have been uglier hadn’t Max Muncy botched his grounder for his first career hit. The major flaw was hitting fastballs: Mathis saw 85 fastballs, over half of the pitches thrown at him, on which he had a batting average of 0.000. In general the swinging strikes and K% rate are well above 30% and therefore reason to be concerned.

Mathisen 2020 pitch tracking

In Houston they’d have an easy solution for this problem, maybe the fresh air in Reno could resolve it as well, but it is to be seen if in Arizona they are able to work on this deficiency.

On the other hand, it is not all problems, because Mathisen was indeed able to demonstrate at times the power he showed in Reno, especially on low speed pitches.

Mathisen enjoyed his “moment suprème” in a game against the Texas Rangers on September 23 where he powered the Diamondbacks to a 7-3 win, driving in 3 runs and homering twice in 4 at bats.

It was not enough to get nominated on the AZ Snake Pit for individual performance of the year, but the two homer game against the Rangers gave Mathisen perhaps somewhat of a lift, albeit briefly for just 2 more games until the season came to an end; he added 3 walks and 2 more hits to his season stats by courtesy of the Colorado Rockies. So, just like the Diamondbacks themselves, Wyatt Mathisen was able to do some window dressing on his season stats against the weaker opponents. Or was the surge real?

The second positive note is about his ability to spread the ball, like the reports out of Reno told us. Only in 6% of Mathisen’s plate appearances there was a defensive shift and the chart of the hit results show he can deposit the ball anywhere:

Mathisen 2020 Statcast Pitch Highlighter

2021 outlook

At 26 years of age and after 7-8 years in the minor leagues, it is a bit weird to call Mathisen a prospect, but his rookie status is still intact for 2021. Roster resource listed that coming into 2020 Mathisen had just two more minor league options remaining, not sure when and where the 3rd one was burnt, but if so, he will have just one remaining option in 2021.

Mathisen is an interesting hitter because of his ability to spread the ball, of which we were able to catch a few glimpses in 2020, and therefore he has his value. He might step in for Eduardo Escobar at 3B on ocassion when “foga power” needs to charge the battery. If we are lucky, maybe we can enjoy some kind of a Joey Gallo like production out of Mathisen. Probably more realistic are Fangraphs’ Zips, that predicts a .231/.329/.416 line, and baseball reference, that has a tiny bit more optimistic .242/.329/.421.

However it will be, 2021 will be a make or break season for Mathisen. He might start the season in AAA where he will have to work on his ability to hit fastballs. He will get his 2021 call ups, but if he continues to miss on fastballs, him will await a similar fate as Kevin Cron as soon as he runs out of minor league options.