Shining and Dimming: Victor Mateo Tosses No-Hitter, Hunter Wood Dominates
By Robbie Knopf
Everything can change in a week. The unstoppable rookie could already have fallen back to earth and the washed-up veteran could have everyone asking why people had ever doubted him. Crazy things can happen in such a short period of time. But as the week ends and another begins, it’s nice to lose the big picture perspective for a second and just talk about all the baseball we saw in the last seven days. Every Saturday here at RCG, we have Shining and Dimming, where we discuss the Rays prospects on both ends of the spectrum, the ones who are red-hot and the ones who have lost their way, and take a snapshot of the state of this Rays organization that we all can’t get enough of. Please head to the comments after you’re done reading with any questions or comments about the Rays prospects discussed below or any other prospect in the system.
Victor Mateo, RHP (Montgomery)– Part of minor league baseball is that are plenty of players without the talent to make the playoffs who play out of their minds for a stretch. You look at their numbers and say “our team might really have something in this guy,” but then he falls back to earth. Maybe Victor Mateo will be another example of that. But with success as sustained as he has managed and a game like he threw last Saturday, maybe he really has turned a corner. On Saturday, Mateo no-hit the Jacksonville Suns, tossing all 9 innings allowing just a walk while striking out 5. His command of his fastball, changeup, and curveball was as precise as you’ll ever see as he forced 10 groundballs and a trio of popups, not allowing a line drive all game. Hitters waited for him a mistake and he just never did. Mateo’s no-no was just the latest in a series of excellent performances. In his last 5 starts, Mateo has a 0.78 ERA and a 24-7 strikeout to walk ratio in 34.2 innings pitched. In his last 10 starts, he has gone 4-1 with a 1.57 ERA and a 41-18 strikeout to walk ratio in 69 innings pitched. What is happening?
Mateo is a slim right-hander at 6’5″, 180, but at 24 years old, it doesn’t seem like he’s ever going to add more muscle (and more velocity). Instead, he has needed to learn how to pitch, and he makes the most out of the stuff he has. Mateo’s fastball stays in the 89-91 MPH range, and he has really broken through locating it in the bottom of the zone with solid late life. His second best pitch is his changeup in the low-80’s with good arm action and solid fade, and he has found success with it even as he has started throwing it to same-side batters as well. He also throws a mid-70’s curveball, although it’s more of a groundball pitch than one that can miss bats. Mateo will never strike many batters out, but if can spot his pitches where he wants to, he could have a future in the major leagues. In a Rays organization with starting depth like the Rays have, he’s more likely a middle reliever than anything else, but it’s amazing that we can visualize Mateo having a good MLB career after watching him go nowhere in 2012 and in the first half of 2013.
Hunter Wood, RHP (Princeton)– In the 40th round of the 2012 MLB Draft, the Rays selected right-hander Nick Sawyer out of Howard Junior College. He has had himself some control issues this year, but with a mid-90’s fastball and a sharp breaking ball, he has a chance to be a late-inning arm. But Sawyer isn’t the only Howard right-hander in the organization anymore. Hunter Wood may not have Sawyer’s pure stuff, but the Rays liked his aptitude of what he has enough to make him their 29th round pick in this year’s draft. So far, that selection is looking awfully smart, and it’s never looked better than this past week. Wood tossed 9 innings across two starts allowing just 1 run on 5 hits, striking out an insane 16 while walking just 4. Last Friday, Wood went 5 innings of 1-hit ball, striking out 12 while walking none.
Wood, 20, is a 6’1″, 171 right-hander who stands out most for his electric fastball. Unlike Sawyer, Wood doesn’t throw incredibly hard, ranging from 88-92 MPH, but it features devastating late bite that Rookie ball hitters just have not been able to figure out. Wood needs to do a better job locating it down in the zone, but his fastball has a chance to be a pitch that elicits much worse swings than you would expect from his velocity even as he moves up in pro ball. Wood’s second offering is a high-70’s breaking ball that he has tightened up since entering pro ball. It gets slurvy at times and he needs to do a better job keeping it down, but he’s finally starting to get some tighter break. Wood is also working on a changeup. Wood is still at just Rookie ball and is light-years away from the major leagues, but you can officially mark him down as a sleeper in the system. It’s nice when the higher picks work out, but it’s the picks like Wood that make you know the Rays’ player evaluation department is something special.
They’re not quite as exciting as home runs, but Seitzer’s ability to draw walks has been critical to his success this season. (Credit: Flickr user BeGreen90)
Cameron Seitzer, 1B (Montgomery)– What were the Rays thinking when they sent Cameron Seitzer straight from Low-A to Double-A this season? The 23 year old had been just an 11th round pick the year before, and he stood out most not for his abilities, but for what he didn’t have as a first baseman: power. Maybe the Rays didn’t care much about Seitzer and just needed someone to fill the spot, so they promoted him not caring how he did. Or maybe the Rays saw something everyone else missed and keyed Seitzer’s breakout season in the process. On the year, Seitzer has more than held his own, managing a .270/.383/.363 line with 24 doubles, 6 homers, 57 RBI, and a 96-79 strikeout to walk ratio in 562 plate appearances. And while his power still leaves something to be desired, he started rectifying that a bit this week, managing a .300/.417/.600 line with 2 homers, 5 RBI, and a 3-3 strikeout to walk ratio in 24 plate appearances.
What makes Cameron Seitzer different from your typical lefty swinging first baseman drafted in the middle rounds? Once again, the first thing to come to mind is his lack of power. But he has two other key facets to his game that have critical to his performance this year: his bat speed and his pitch recognition. A lot of players hit for power, but when they do so with a long swing, that power quite often doesn’t translate to pro ball or at least leads to plenty of strikeouts. In sharp contrast, Seitzer has a short, quick stroke and is adept at drilling line drives all over the field. Instead of being overaggressive, he takes his pitches and knows the strike zone well. But the biggest deal may be his pitch recognition. Most first basemen in his position were the cleanup hitters in their college lineups and knew not to swing when they were being pitched around. The difference with Seitzer is that he is excellent at recognizing breaking and offspeed pitches, leading to walks whether he’s on a hot streak or a slump and plenty of pitches to hit as he makes pitchers throw a lot of pitches to get him out. Seitzer still needs to work at translating his pitch recognition into more power–it’s worth it for him to pick his spots when he’s ahead in the count to elongate his swing a little and swing for the fences–but he has the skill-set to keep hitting at higher levels and maybe even hit a decent amount of home runs as well. Seitzer also has to issue with left-handed batters at all, actually hitting better against them than righties this year. Seitzer is not such a high-upside player, but it looks like he has a real chance to become an average big league first baseman and maybe a little more between his hitting and strong defense. No one except the Rays thought Cameron Seitzer could possibly be this good.
John Alexander, 1B (Hudson Valley)– Seitzer wasn’t the only first baseman in the organization to have a great week. Ironically, though, John Alexander is everything that Seitzer is not. Alexander, 20, stands out most for his projectable power, but he has major issues with strikeouts and a lack of discipline. And Alexander did actually have a better week than Seitzer at the plate. Alexander managed a ridiculous .483/.516/.655 line with 5 doubles and 8 RBI in 31 plate appearances. Selected threee rounds ahead of Seitzer in the 2011 Draft (as crazy as that sounds now), Alexander has tremendous power and above-average bat speed as well, but his approach at the plate is in shambles at this point. Even after this great week, Alexander still has just a .221/.256/.293 line on the year in 223 plate appearances. But at least he’s finally now starting to find some success, and confidence could be key for him here. Maybe if he achieves a comfort level at the plate, that’s when all the lessons the Rays are trying to drill into him about plate discipline will finally be something he can internalize. Alexander was a big-time upside play from the start, and that remains the case. Let’s see if this strong week can be the start of him turning his potential into any sort of consistent performance.
Kean Wong, 2B (GCL Rays)– Aside from maybe offensive linemen in football, baseball is the only sport that features players who don’t look like athletes at all yet turn into stars. You look at Kean Wong, a 5’11”, 190 kid coming out of high school with little power or speed, and he doesn’t look like much. When the Rays selected him in the 4th round of this year’s draft, the uninformed chided them for selecting him simply because of his older brother, Cardinals second baseman Kolten Wong. But while Wong isn’t nearly the athlete as his brother, that doesn’t mean he can’t be an awfully good player in his own right. The reason is simple: he can really hit. In the last week, Wong hit .545 in 23 plate appearances. And on the season, Wong has a .328/.377/.390 line with 7 doubles, 2 triples, 22 RBI, and 7 stolen bases in 194 plate apperaances as an 18 year old at Rookie ball. He has a smooth swing and a chance to be a .300 hitter in the big leagues someday. That doesn’t mean that it will be a breeze for him to get there. Wong has to improve his plate discipline significantly and start hitting for some power, and he also has a long way to go defensively at second base. But Kean Wong is a talented baseball player, and no one should deny that.
Kevin Kiermaier, CF (Durham)– Rays fans, if you like Sam Fuld, wait until you get your eyes on Kevin Kiermaier. Kiermaier, 23, is a lefty swinger who plays tremendous defense in centerfield and the corner outfield spots, shows great speed,bunts very well, and hustles out every play. But that’s only the start of his game–he can really hit too. Over the past week, Kiermaier has a .354/.400/.636 line with 3 doubles, 3 triples, 5 RBI, and 3 stolen bases in 35 plate appearances. He had a .307/.370/.434 line in 371 Double-A plate appearances this season, and has actually upped his OPS in his 118 PA’s since coming up to Durham, posting a .280/.353/.466 line. As we discussed in last week’s addition of Shining and Dimming, Kiermaier shows good bat speed and plate discipline and is starting to tap into his gap power. If Kiermaier hits for just passable power, the rest of his game could be good enough for him to be a starting centerfielder someday. Kiermaier was a 31st round pick back in 2010 out of Parkland Community College. It’s incredible how far he has come since then.
Yoel Araujo, RF (Princeton)– Just so happened that several of the Rays’ top performers in their system this week came from Rookie ball. Among them, Araujo is the biggest name. Ardent Rays prospect watchers may remember Araujo from when the Rays signed him for $800,000 as a 16 year old back in 2010. He was touted as a 5-tool centerfielder who especially stood out for his incredible power potential. Since then, he has basically become the Tim Beckham of the Rays’ international program. He thankfully hasn’t gotten suspended for drugs of abuse, but like Beckham, he filled out a little more than people expected to 6’0″, 190, costing him some speed and lowering his overall profile significantly. Unlike Beckham, though, Araujo’s power is really starting to come out. This past week, Araujo hit .414 with 3 homers, a double, and 11 RBI in 31 plate appearahces. He struck out 11 times without walking–maybe he fell in love with the power he was producing–and obviously he has a long way to go, but the potential is certainly still there. Araujo has had a tough season for Princeton, managing just a .222/.293/.355 line, but with great bat speed, still enormous power potential, and good defense in right field, he still has a chance to be a very good player if he can get his patience and pitch recogntion up to par. The Rays will give him all the time it takes to make that happen.
Curt Casali, C (Montgomery)– Will we ever be able to have a Shining and Dimming without Curt Casali? This week, Casali put up a .381/.500/.667 line with 3 doubles, a homer, and 5 RBI in 26 plate appearances. He didn’t get much to hit, but he just went with it, posting a 2-5 strikeout to walk ratio. We know Casali isn’t this good, but after managing a .389/.477/.620 line through 128 Double-A plate appearances, we’ve reached the point where a question has to be asked: will he ever stop? At the end of the day, this season won’t mean anything for Casali unless he follows it up by performing well next year. But all eyes are on Casali now, and he may not be too far away from giving the Rays an option for at least a part-time catcher.
Would have been nice if Romero’s going-away party from Montgomery went a little bit better than that. (Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports)
Enny Romero, LHP (Montgomery)– Romero is set to make his Triple-A debut on Monday, but the timing is kind of hilarious–his last start was absolutely abysmal. Romero lasted just 3 innings allowing 4 runs on 3 hits, walking a scary 7 while striking out just 3. But Romero had 1.50 ERA in his previous 8 starts, so it certainly isn’t a surprise that he’s getting a Triple-A cup of coffee at the end of this season. Romero is 11-7 with a 2.76 ERA in 27 starts and 140.1 innings pitchedfor the Biscuits this season, but his 7.1 K/9 and 4.7 BB/9 leave something to be desired. His fastball is explosive, but his curveball and changeup are still a ways away.
Alejandro Segovia, 1B (Charlotte)– For years, Alejandro Segovia was that catching prospect who could really hit. Then he was moved off catcher because he wasn’t very good defensively there. But he still can really hit. Well, except for this week. Segovia went 0 for 17 this week. Ouch. But his strikeout to walk ratio was actually a solid 5-5. Sometimes the hits just don’t fall. Segovia still has very impressive numbers on the season for the Stone Crabs, putting up a .286/.382/.466 line with 22 doubles, 14 homers, 50 RBI, and a 64-46 strikeout to walk ratio in 429 plate appearances. Catching is the easiest road to the big leagues if a player is capable, but Segovia is doing just fine with his bat alone.
Tyler Goeddel, 3B (Bowling Green)– The Rays sent Goeddel back to Bowling Green to repeat the level hoping he would tear it up and quickly force their hand. While he has shown progress, he has not lived up to expectations. He has been very streaky and this was one of his worst weeks as he managed just a .100/.143/.200 line with 7 strikeouts against just 1 walk in 21 plate appearances. The good news: both his hits were doubles and he drove in a pair of RBIs. Also, he actually went 7 for 8 in his two games before this week began. But Goeddel is yet another player who needs plenty of work in the plate discipline department, and it remains to be seen when he’ll finally turn the corner in that regard. The good news: he’s an athletic third baseman with speed and power potential, and he’s still just 20 years old. The Rays will hope that something clicks at Charlotte next year.
Jake Hager, SS (Charlotte)– It’s funny to compare Hager with Goeddel because Hager actually has fine plate discipline but just has not been able to hit the ball with authority. Hager’s strikeout to walk ratio this week was solid at 4-2, but he went just 2 for 23 (.087). Hager is actually going to have to learn to swing more aggressively and bring out the above-average power for a shortstop he was believed to have coming out of the 2011 Draft. Hopefully Hager can start adjusting at the end of this year and get back to his 2012 levels if not more in 2014.
German Marquez, RHP (Princeton)– Princeton right-hander German Marquez had a tough start on Tuesday, allowing 6 runs on 4 hits in 4.1 innings, striking out just 2 while walking 4. Why is that notable? It was just Marquez’s second bad outing of the year as an 18 year old in a league where the average age is 20 and a half. With that in mind, Marquez has really had himself a very nice season, managing a 4.05 ERA, a 38-24 strikeout to walk ratio, and more groundballs than flyballs in 12 starts and 53.1 innings pitched. What do we know about Marquez? He’s a 6’1″, 184 right-hander with a fastball in the low-90’s, a promising breaking ball, and a changeup that has looked good in limited use as well. It also says a lot that despite just a 6.82 ERA and a 29-20 strikeout to walk ratio in 34.1 innings pitched in the Venezuelan Summer League, the Rays not only brought him to America but sent him not to the Gulf Coast League but to Princeton and that he has done so well. Who knows what happens from here, but watch out for German Marquez the next few years.