Luis Matos’ Early Numbers Suggest A Very High Ceiling

Image credit: Luis Matos (Photo by Bill Mitchell)

Even after trading Alexander Canario and Caleb Kilian to the Cubs for Kris Bryant and two more prospects plus lefthander Sam Selman to the Angels for Tony Watson, the Giants’ farm system is bursting with high-end, high-upside talent. On no club is that more clear than Low-A San Jose, where Canario played until July 30. 

Even in his absence, San Jose still has the Giants’ No. 1 prospect, Marco Luciano, top pitching prospect, Kyle Harrison, powerful outfielder Jairo Pomares and intriguing infielder Luis Toribio. Beyond that foursome, San Jose had interesting pitchers like recently-promoted strikeout machine Ryan Murphy and righthanders Prelander Berroa, Carson Ragsdale and Wil Jensen, each of whom have shown promise in 2021. 

And then there’s Luis Matos. The Giants’ No. 4 prospect began making a name for himself in 2019, when he tore up the Dominican Summer League. Like every minor leaguer in 2020, his progress was stalled by the pandemic. Being Venezuelan, Matos felt the sting more acutely since his home country shut its borders to any outside travelers. That meant Matos was left at the team hotel in Scottsdale, Ariz., until restrictions were lifted and he could begin working out at team facilities and eventually playing at instructional league. 

Even team officials admit they expected a bit of a learning curve from Matos, who is getting his first experience at a full-season level this year. If there were a learning curve, Matos conquered it incredibly quickly. His OPS has increased in each of his three full months, climaxing in July with a .358/.378/.566 slash line, eight doubles and four home runs. Each of his totals in those five categories were his best in any month this season.

More interesting, however, is the sustained amount of contact Matos is making considering his age and experience. His combination of age, contact and performance puts him in impressive company. 

In 2021, he’s one of just four teenagers in the minors with more than 300 plate appearances and a swinging-strike rate of less than 13%. The other three are Robert Hassell III (Padres), Ezequiel Tovar (Rockies) and Noelvi Marte (Mariners). Given that Marte and Hassell are also Top 100 prospects, Matos’ output this season further validates his status as one of the top young talents in the minor leagues. 

Look back a few years, however, and it’s clear that early contact skills from teenagers often point to a future among the game’s top players. Here is the list teenagers who hit better than .300 while swinging and missing less than 13% of the time since 2013 while playing in a full-season league.

2019: Miguel Vargas (9.6%), Ji-Hwan Bae (8.7%), Wander Franco (4.3%), Xavier Edwards (4.3%)
2018: Vladimir Guerrero Jr. (9.9%)
2017: Ronald Acuña Jr. (12.3%), Vladimir Guerrero Jr. (8.4%), Bo Bichette (10.1%), Jesus Sanchez (12.2%), Keibert Ruiz (8.9%)
2016: Luis Arraez (5.5%), Luis Urias (5.1%), Carlos Sepulveda (6.2%)
2015: Ozzie Albies (10%), Franklin Barreto (12.9%)
2014: None
2013: Francisco Lindor (7.6%)

To say the least, that list is impressive. Albies, Guerrero, Bichette and Acuña have each been all-stars (Guerrero was the MVP of this year’s game), Franco, Guerrero and Acuña each ranked as the No. 1 player on Baseball America’s Top 100, and from 2018 and earlier all but Sepulveda made the big leagues. Vargas is a prospect on the rise, too, and ranked No. 7 on the Dodgers’ updated Top 30 list before the trade deadline. 

There are just less than two months remaining in the 2021 season, so Matos’ numbers could dip below the thresholds he’s performed at so far, especially if he earns a promotion to High-A Eugene and faces more advanced pitching. He’s been on an upswing in each of the season’s first three months, however, and the numbers he’s produced suggest a very high ceiling lies ahead. 

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