Bryan Mata Welcomes Health, Chances To Improve For Red Sox
Bryan Mata entered 2021 spring training seemingly on the cusp of pitching in the big leagues.
While spending the previous summer at the alternate training site in Pawtucket, he had shown arguably the best stuff of any Red Sox minor league pitcher.
Mata's mix was headlined by a mid-to-high-90s power sinker and slider and was complemented by a changeup, curveball and four-seam fastball. The mix seemed to ensure at least a floor in middle relief.
But later that spring Mata was shut down with a forearm strain that ultimately necessitated Tommy John surgery. The rehab process extended through the first half of 2022.
When Mata returned in extended spring training, it became apparent that his arsenal had not lost power. He touched 102 mph in one of his first extended spring games.
Once he returned to affiliated games, Mata regularly clocked 97-100 mph as a starter in 83 innings and 19 outings across all four full-season levels. In all, he posted a 2.49 ERA with a 30% strikeout rate and 13% walk rate.
“I love watching Mata throw,” said Chris Sale, who spent significant chunks of 2021 and 2022 rehabbing with him. “I saw him really turn a corner (with) the power he possesses, the ease that it looks like he's throwing with.”
While the swing-and-miss numbers on Mata's fastball were modest, he showed the potential to use the pitch to broaden the plate and set up his offspeed pitches.
In a vacuum, the shape of Mata's pitches could give the 23-year-old midrotation potential, so long as the 6-foot-3 righty can improve his control from its below-average status in 2022 to at least fringy in 2023.
For Mata, who is almost certain to open the year in the Triple-A Worcester rotation, the mere chance to pursue improvement while healthy is a milestone.
“It feels really good to go into a season not having to worry about recovering from an injury or rehabbing,” he said.
— While the Red Sox believe that Ceddanne Rafaela can play at least above-average defense at shortstop, the team gave him all his early-spring reps in center field, where manager Alex Cora described him as “elite.”
— Lefthander Brandon Walter, whose sinker sat at 88-91 mph for most of the spring of 2022, worked at 90-93 in early spring outings in 2023.