In one season with the Diamondbacks organization, infielder Wyatt Mathisen has found a new sense of life.
His defensive versatility and new-found swing captured Arizona’s attention since signing a minor league free-agent deal in 2019. The 26-year-old was added to its 40-man roster and is one of three players on the D-backs’ Taxi Squad for the 2020 season.
During the shortened 2020 season, each MLB team is allowed three Taxi Squad players for every road trip, giving them an immediate option to replace a player that’s injured or suffered COVID-19. The three players must include at least one catcher while the other two slots can be a pitcher or position player.
Arizona’s Taxi Squad consists of Mathisen, catcher John Hicks and left-handed pitcher Joe Mantiply. All three players can substitute for injured or diagnosed players throughout the year, but Mathisen’s do-it-all ability can make him a key contributor for the D-backs.
Mathisen’s defensive prowess dates back to his playing days as a catcher and shortstop at Calallen High School. The Corpus Christi, Texas native made the varsity baseball team as a freshman and batted .441 with 29 home runs and 200 RBIs over four years. He also had a 1.49 ERA in 216.1 innings pitched.
Mathisen established himself as the top prep catcher in the 2012 MLB Draft class and was selected 69th overall in the second round by the Pittsburgh Pirates. He converted from catcher to third base in 2014 and had some hiccups along the way.
“The first three balls that were hit to me in a game I bent on both knees like I was catching in spring training,” Mathisen said in a 2019 interview with Tahoe Onstage. “It definitely took some adjusting, for sure.”
Over seven years in the Pirates minor league farm system, Mathisen flashed his defensive versatility, but he totaled 24 home runs in 554 games. That all changed with the help of a swing change and the hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League at Triple-A Reno last season.
Mathisen was in the midst of a .183 slump to start the 2019 campaign, and he looked toward Reno Aces hitting coach Jason Camilli for help. Camili found a slight adjustment in his right-handed swing to maximize his potential at the plate.
His left foot landed open and exposed in the batter’s box on his follow through. The minor difference in placement didn’t let Mathisen get the ball up in the air as much, often ending in hard-hit ground balls that couldn’t get past the infield.
Mathisen closed his compact stance by mid-season and it paid dividends. He hit .300 (27-for-90) with eight home runs and 20 RBIs in May and batted .340 (31-for-91) with 11 home runs and 28 RBIs in June. He also was named Arizona’s Minor League Player of the Month for June following his prolific production at the plate.
“(Camilli) and I watched some video from last year and saw the difference,” he said in a 2019 interview with Tahoe Onstage. “Once we noticed what I was doing, I immediately made the change and it was as simple as that. It’s made a huge difference.”
Once Mathisen made a slight adjustment to his swing, he finished the season with a career-high 23 homers and 61 RBIs with Reno last season. Lower body injuries plagued his second half of the season, but he showed enough promise at the plate or the D-backs to invest in.
Mathisen had a career year with more room to grow. Powerful swings with contact to all fields in the clip below shows why Arizona believes he can produce in the major leagues.
Things you love to see...Wyatt Mathisen stand-up doubles #Aceball♠️ | #AllinForAceball | #DbacksSpring pic.twitter.com/HFfUkZwP3w— Reno Aces - Mask On (@Aces) February 25, 2020
Defensively, Mathisen can play third base, second base and first base. He totaled 59 starts at third and 18 starts at second base in Reno last season. He also had 57 starts at first base in 2018 with the Indianapolis Indians, Triple-A affiliate of the Pittsburgh Pirates.
No matter where Mathisen is playing in the infield, he has great instincts with solid range and quickness.
May, 27th - Wyatt Mathisen makes a web gem at the hot corner.#Aceball♠️ | #AllInForAceball pic.twitter.com/Odogt6kQ0z— Reno Aces - Mask On (@Aces) September 28, 2019
The Diamondbacks haven’t suffered any injuries or positive COVID-19 test results from players thus far this season. If someone is unable to play, Mathisen can contribute and be more than a temporary Taxi Squad substitution.
Arizona invested in Mathisen last offseason, and it translated to an offensive explosion with career numbers across the board. He has a chance to make the most of his opportunity during the shortened season.