Bryan Mata Showing He's Ready For Big Challenges
After trading away scads of top prospects like Yoan Moncada, Michael Kopech, Manuel Margot, Anderson Espinoza and Mauricio Dubon, it’s understandable that the Red Sox’s system might be down from recent years.
In fact, in just two years the Boston system has gone from No. 4 in the Baseball America rankings to No. 23 entering the 2018 season. But that’s not to say the cupboard is bare.
That much was clear on Wednesday afternoon on the back fields at Boston’s spring training home of JetBlue Park. There, Red Sox farmhands matched against Rays farmhands.
And while most of the attention from the scattered fans and media was paid to righthanders Rick Porcello and Matt Barnes, down from big league camp for the day to get some work in on a smaller stage, a teenaged righthander was on the next field opening eyes.
Bryan Mata, an 18-year-old Venezuelan who checks in as the system’s No. 4 prospect, got the start for the low Class A work group and was impressive for four innings before yielding to righthander Alex Scherff, Boston’s ninth-ranked prospect and their fifth-round selection last year.
Mata looked much sturdier than his listed 160 pounds, and it showed up on the radar gun. He pitched in the low 90s last season but on Wednesday sat between 92-94 mph and touched 95 with his lively fastball. He complemented the pitch with a pair of offspeeds—a changeup and a curveball—that each flashed above-average during the course of the outing.
He threw the changeup most often early in the outing, fading it away from lefthanders and digging it in on righties, before mixing in the hook later in the day. The curveball showed tight spin and deep break with an 11-to-5 shape in the mid-70s. He also showed an ability to throw the pitch in the zone or bury it for a chase as well.
Mata is the latest in the line of talented international righties the Red Sox have challenged early in their career. Before he was traded to the Padres for lefty Drew Pomeranz in 2016, Espinoza landed at low Class A as an 18-year-old. So, too, did Nicaraguan righty Roniel Raudes.
Last year, less than a month after his 18th birthday, Mata got the same treatment. He got a call in his hotel room in Fort Myers, where he was pitching in extended spring training, giving him the good news.
“They told me to keep doing my job,” Mata said on Wednesday through a translator. “Just keep doing what (he was) doing in extended.”
Mata said he believed he was doing a better job of mixing up his pitches during his brief time in extended spring training in 2017, which earned him a reprieve from spending the summer in the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League. Instead, he was sent to low Class A Greenville in the South Atlantic League, with his first start coming on May 26.
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The next wave of 2015 international signings, such as Miguel Amaya and Leody Taveras, who could make the Top 100.
His Greenville debut lasted just three innings, but he shined when the reins were taken off five days later. Against Rome, Mata spun six one-run inning with six strikeouts and two walks. He finished the regular year 5-6, 3.74 with 74 strikeouts in 77 innings before making two appearances in the playoffs en route to an SAL championship with the Drive.
Since the end of the season, Mata has worked diligently with Boston’s prescribed training regimens to gain strength add more power to his stuff and better prepare his body for the rigors of a long season, one in which he’s sure to be among the youngest players in his league.
He directly credits his added strength for the improvement on his curveball, which he wants to further develop this year, whether he begins back in Greenville or continues on his aggressive path in high Class A Salem.
If he can do that, he’ll further stake his place among the next wave of talented Red Sox prospects.