On November 20th, Milwaukee and Cleveland swung a trade that sent 18-year old catching prospect Andres Melendez to the Indians for 25-year old Mark Mathias. Cleveland had no room on the 40-man to protect Mathias from the Rule 5 Draft, but Milwaukee did. Mathias is an infielder who plays primarily second base and third base, although he has logged over 200 minor league innings at shortstop in his career.
Cleveland selected Mathias in the third round of the 2015 draft. Coming out of Cal Poly, MLB.com ranked him as the #128 prospect heading into that year’s draft. During his junior season, Mathias hit .356 with 11 extra-base hits, 28 RBIs, 42 runs and nine stolen bases in 47 games. That came one year after he hit .386 and won the conference batting title while earning Big West Conference Field Player of the Year. He also participated on the USA Baseball Collegiate National Team.
In his fifth season of professional baseball, Mathias made it to the AAA level where he performed relatively well with the bat. He slashed .262/.355/.442 while hitting 12 home runs for a 104 wRC+. Mathias is a versatile player who can play anywhere in the infield. He has been hampered by injuries to both of his shoulders, so there is injury risk to this infield depth piece. As Teddy Cahill of Baseball America points out in an interview about Cleveland’s top 10 prospects in 2018, “Mathias needs to prove he can stay healthy and has now had problems with both his shoulders. But when he’s on the field, he does a lot of things well and provides versatility. I think he has a real chance to be a utility infielder and I know the big league staff liked what they saw of him in spring training, before his injury.”
In 2018 and 2019 he played in 117 and 115 games respectively. As a result, concerns related to his shoulders might be in the past. Over his five professional seasons, he has posted decent offensive numbers:
Baseball Savant gives Mathias an overall scouting grade of 45. Fangraphs gives him an overall grade of 40. Such grades would be indicative of someone whose ceiling is that of a utility and/or platoon type of player. Based on the need for infield depth and the level of prospect sent to Cleveland, that is the type of player Milwaukee is expecting to get.
There is no single tool that stands out for Mathias. He is described as doing a lot of things well. Baseball Savant’s scouting grades and subsequent report would suggest that:
Hit 50 | Power 40 | Run 50 | Arm 50 | Field 55 | Overall 45
“When healthy, Indians officials regard Mathias as one the system’s better pure hitters. He makes a lot of hard contact from the right side of the plate, producing line drives across the whole field thanks to a combination of bat speed and barrel control. He has an advanced approach and controls the strike zone well, in turn fueling his on-base skills. Though he projects for below-average over-the-fence power, Mathias, with his strength and knack for barreling the ball, has plenty of pop to the gaps and tallied 40 doubles in his full-season debut.”
According to Eric Longenhangen of Fangraphs, Mathias has a feel contact (9% swinging strike rate in 2019) and controls the zone (11% career walk rate). His 45-grade power is the barrier between him and regular playing time, thus his overall grade.
With depleted infield depth going into the season, Mathias has a real chance at big league playing time in Milwaukee in 2020. He can serve as a back up option to Keston Hiura at second base while also providing coverage at third base and possibly shortstop. Mathias could certainly get the call at some point next season, and if he does, he would likely be a guy who could get on base, play solid defense, and consistently put the ball in play.
Baseball statistics courtesy of Baseball Savant, MLB.com, and Fangraphs