About the nicest thing Triple-A Reno manager Chris Cron could think to say about third baseman Wyatt Mathisen was to call him a dirtball. And the best way he could explain it was with a story.
One night in Tacoma, Mathisen hurt his leg but remained in the game. He went on to hit an opposite-field home run and needed to hobble, Kirk Gibson style, around the bases. The injury was so serious it cost him the next month on the injured list.
“That showed his character,” Cron said, “and what he’s about.”
The D-backs see even more to like about Mathisen, which was why, in a somewhat surprising move, they added him to their 40-man roster. Mathisen is coming off a career year. In 283 at-bats with Reno, he hit .283/.403/.601 with a home run total (23) that was more than double his previous career-high (10).
Mathisen is no stranger to the prospect game—it’s just been a while. He was a Pirates second-round pick in 2012 and ranked among their top 30 prospects three times.
Drafted as a catcher, he moved to third base after two years, putting pressure on his bat. That turned out to be an issue; while he always showed good plate discipline, his overall production was limited.
His bat started to show signs of life in 2018, but he left Pittsburgh as a minor league free agent after the season. According to D-backs assistant general manager Jared Porter, it was Max Phillips, one of the team’s analysts, who identified Mathisen as an intriguing free agent.
“We made him a priority for us,” Porter said, “and got it done.”
Mathisen’s breakout at the plate in 2019 almost certainly was aided by the offensive environment in Triple-A, but there were adjustments he made prior to the season that also likely played a part.
“I think he pretty much did a bit of a swing overhaul,” Reno hitting coach Jason Camilli said. “It was a thought of him letting his misses be more in the air, of setting your sights a little differently than what they were in the past.”
The D-backs like his defensive versatility—he can play third, first and second base—and believe his bat-to-ball and zone awareness skills have a chance to translate to the highest level.
“I really think he does what we preach here a lot and that’s controlling the zone,” Cron said. “He goes up there and finds a way to prolong at-bats. He takes pitches that aren’t real good and swings at the ones he’s supposed to swing at and is able to do some damage with them.”