As we start getting towards the bottom of the top ten on our community top-20 Red Sox prospects list, our run on starting pitchers has continued into the number eight slot. This latest vote, another runaway, gives us our fourth consecutive pitcher after starting the list with three position players in the top four slots. This time, the vote went in favor of Bryan Mata, who took 21 out of 35 votes (60 percent).
Mata was not really on the radar when he joined the organization as a 16-year-old on the international market back in 2016. The Venezuelan wasn’t a big-time July 2 signing, instead receiving a modest $25,000 signing in January of that year. He got right into pitching that year, however, making his debut in the Dominican Summer League in 2016. Eyes were opened right away from his performance. Despite his age and lack of experience as a professional the then 17-year-old made 14 starts in the DSL for a total of 61 innings, finishing the season with a 2.80 ERA, 61 strikeouts and only 19 walks. That was enough for the righty to be aggressively promoted to Greenville for his full-season debut the following season, and he again didn’t look overmatched. Now 18 years old, Mata pitched to a 3.74 ERA over 17 starts and 77 innings in A-Ball with 74 strikeouts and 26 walks. There wasn’t ace potential here, but for an organization that has struggled so mightily in developing starting pitching, having someone so young and successful in the organization was certainly intriguing.
All of this made him a must-follow in the farm system heading into 2018. It was his age-19 season and he already had succeeded in full-season ball, now making the leap up to High-A. The sky was the limit. Unfortunately, it just didn’t work out that way. His performance took a major step back, which we’ll get to in a second, but he also suffered his first injury of his career. A back injury in late-July ended his season prematurely. Before the injury, Mata had started 17 games and tossed 72 innings. His 3.50 ERA over that time looks pretty good and may speak to some ability to get out of trouble, but concerning was that he struck out 61 and walked a whopping 58 batters. That’s over seven walks per nine innings. Yikes!
Obviously, his stock has fallen quite a bit from that, but many scouts are quite as worried about that horrendous walk rate as you may think. You can’t totally write off the struggles, but Mata came into the 2018 season looking like a new man, adding weight and muscle to be built more like a starting pitcher. It was a good development to see, but it also understandably messed with him mechanically. Some believe as he becomes more comfortable in his body, the command will improve. That development with the body helped his fastball play up significantly. Whereas he used to sit in the high-80s or low-90s, but he now got up to 92-95 and sometimes even a little higher. The command needs work, but the basic components of a good fastball are there. He also pairs that with a good changeup and a solid curveball, giving him a solid three-pitch mix. If he can figure out the control and command issues, he’s the type of pitcher that can stick in the rotation long-term. That’s a rarity in the Red Sox system.
That question about Mata’s control and command will begin to be answered in 2019. This is going to be a fascinating season for Mata. Most of the potential risers in this system are young, inexperienced guys like Triston Casas and Antoni Flores, but don’t sleep on Mata in that category. He turns 20 in early May, and if he can get his walk rate back to a normal level while maintaining the velocity gains with the fastball, his stock will rise considerably. It’s a lot easier said than done, of course, but the possibility is there. Sox Prospects projects him to start the season back in Salem, and that makes sense. Allow him to repeat a level at which he struggled and hopefully gain more confidence, opening up the possibility for a promotion to Portland around the draft.
Here is our list so far:
- Michael Chavis
- Darwinzon Hernandez
- Triston Casas
- Bobby Dalbec
- Jay Groome
- Tanner Houck
- Durbin Feltman
- Bryan Mata
Now, you can head down into the comments and vote for the number nine. As a reminder, to do this you go down below and find the comment from me corresponding with the player for whom you’d like to vote. When you find said player, just click the “rec” button, and that will count your vote. To do this, you will need to be logged in as a member of the site. If you’d like to vote for a player who is not listed, just leave a comment saying “Vote for ___ here” and I’ll rec the comment to count your vote. Until next time...