In this Red Sox system, there is a pretty clear top tier that includes Triston Casas and Jeter Downs. There is some disagreement on the order, which was reflected in a very close vote for our top spot, but it’s those two and then everyone else follows. Beyond that, though, there are a lot of different ways this list can go. We saw that in the last round of voting, with four players within 10 votes. It was another close one, but coming out on top was Bryan Mata, who is our number three prospect after grabbing 30 percent of the vote.
Mata was not a high-profile J2 signing by any definition, and in fact was not a J2 signing at all. The righty signed out of Venezuela in January of 2016 for a measly $25,000 signing bonus, per his Sox Prospects page. It took him no time at all to show that he could perform just as well, and more often than not better, than his big-name counterparts.
He was sent to the Dominican Summer League that same year he was signed, making his debut in the DSL rotation in 2016. He thrived in that league, making 14 starts and pitching to an impressive 2.80 ERA while striking out exactly a batter an inning and keeping his walks in relative check. A strong DSL performance isn’t always enough to catch public attention, but it was enough for the Red Sox to have their interest piqued. And while he wouldn’t start the following season in full-season ball, he was promoted onto that roster fairly shortly after the season began and made 17 starts for Greenville in 2017, his age-18 season. Over that run he pitched to a 3.74 ERA with 74 strikeouts in 77 innings, highly impressive given his age.
At that point, the cat was wholly out of the bag and Mata was on the Red Sox prospect radar heading into the 2018 season. Still very young of course, the then 19-year-old was sent to Salem, but here he struggled a bit for the first time as a pro. His command issues started catching up with him a bit more, and he missed a bit of time with injury. He did make 17 starts and his 3.50 ERA certainly was not bad, but he was missing fewer bats and allowing more walks.
Because of this and the fact that he was way ahead of the curve in terms of development relative to his age, the Red Sox felt comfortable having him repeat High-A in the 2019 season. That wound up being a good thing to get his momentum back as Mata absolutely dominated in Salem to start that season. Over 10 starts the righty pitched to a 1.75 ERA and that was enough to get him a mid-season push up to Portland. The jump from High-A to Double-A is always a tough one, and Mata was no exception. He struck out more than a batter per inning in his 11 starts, but he also struggled with command and finished that run in Portland with a 5.03 ERA. But still, all told he had pitched a half-season in Double-A and was still only 20 years old.
In 2020 he was supposed to be knocking on the door, likely starting the season in Portland with the hope he could do something similar to the year prior, dominating early and earning a mid-season promotion to Triple-A. Obviously the pandemic had other ideas. Still, Mata did get to head to the Alternate Site in Pawtucket to get his work in there, and while he missed some time with a hamstring injury his performance prior to that was mostly positive. This past winter, he was placed on the 40-man roster to protect him from the Rule 5 Draft.
As far as the scouting report goes, there is a whole lot to like here, which shouldn’t come as much of a surprise given the career track I’ve laid out. For his entire career it’s been the fastball that highlights the package, with his heat coming in consistently in the upper 90s. He also pairs that with a really good slider that has morphed into more of a cutter with sharper action in the last year or so. One of the keys will be to develop his other two secondaries, the curveball and changeup. Those should be good enough to give him a full starter’s arsenal, though the fastball and slider/cutter are the top offerings here.
The issues for Mata have typically been two-fold. One has been his size. Much of his career has been spent by scouts waiting for him to fill out, and that has seemed to happen over the last year or two. Mata is up over 200 pounds now, which is important. It’s hard to stay healthy as a starter as an under-sized, hard-throwing pitcher. There are always some questions about how added size will affect mechanics, but by all accounts his mechanics are cleaner and simpler than ever. The other issue is control, and this is what will ultimately decide his path. He’s shown incremental improvement at times here, but he’ll need to consistently rein it in to reach his number three starter ceiling.
Looking ahead to 2021, Mata is expected to start the season in Worcester’s rotation at Triple-A. While he is on the 40-man, I wouldn’t expect him to be an immediate source of depth for the rotation as I’d imagine they want to get him at least a half-season of experience at the level before even entertaining the idea of having him help in the majors. Of course, plans can change due to his own performance (i.e. if he dominates and forces them to change their minds) and/or injuries and such on the major-league roster. Still, while I do think there’s a decent chance we’ll see him make his debut in 2021, I would expect it to come in the latter half of the season.
Here is our list so far:
Now, you can head down into the comments and vote for the number four prospect. 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. We encourage discussion, of course, but please don’t comment under specific players’ names. Instead, scroll to the bottom to start a new comment thread in order to keep the players at the top of the comment section. Until next time...