Is The Yankees’ Jorge Mateo The Next Billy Hamilton or Is He Even Better?

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by Eric Stashin (aka The Rotoprofessor)

We all know the phenomenon that the Reds’ Billy Hamilton was coming up through the minors. Thought to be a player who could single-handedly win you a category, he hasn’t quite lived up to the billing as he’s struggled to get on base in the Majors. We’ve seen the Yankees’ Jorge Mateo draw comparisons to Hamilton, so it seems fair to wonder if Mateo going to be the next Hamilton? Or, could he actually be better?

In 500 PA between Single-A and Hih-A Mateo stole 82 bases in 99 attempts. That alone tells us that the 20-year old has ample speed. MLB.com gives him an 80 grade for his speed (on an 80 point scale), so questioning his potential stolen base upside would be a mistake. He has the potential to steal 100+ bases in the minor leagues, just as Hamilton did.

The real question is if he will be able to get on base to utilize it.

Mateo spent the bulk of the year at Single-A (365 AB), so we will use that as our guide. He is still young, but he managed just a .268 batting average and not a great command of the strike zone:

  • Strikeout Rate – 19.6%
  • Walk Rate – 8.8%

We’d like to see more than that, especially at the lowest levels of the minors. We could argue that his speed will bring a higher than normal BABIP, but he posted a .338 mark and couldn’t hit above .270.

To be fair he did show more of an ability to draw a walk in rookie ball, so the potential is there, but it’s an area of his game that needs to be watched closely. It becomes especially true when you see Hamilton’s strike zone command at the same level. He had 610 PA at Single-A in 2011, posting the following marks:

  • Strikeout Rate – 21.8%
  • Walk Rate – 8.5%

Hamilton also played much of that season as a 20-year old, and it was also his first year above Rookie Ball. The two were at the same place in their development and the results aren’t much different. Hamilton has improved his strikeout rate (16.5% in 2015), but he doesn’t draw enough walks (6.2%) and has struggled with his BABIP (.264). Consider him the cautionary tale, as speed doesn’t always mean an inflated BABIP. There also is no guarantee that Mateo can reduce his strikeout rate, making him that much more of a potential liability.

Mateo also isn’t a power hitter by any stretch, though MLB.com said:

“He’s not just a slappy hitter, as he has the wiry strength to drive balls into the gaps. “

Is Mateo the next Hamilton? It’s quite possible, though seeing how he develops at the plate as he moves up the ladder is important. If he can show an improved eye, not only cutting down on the strikeouts but also increasing his walks, we’d be a lot more bullish on him. As it is the speed does make him a commodity, just don’t make the mistake of overvaluing it. We’ve been down that road with Hamilton and look at what the early returns have beenn.

Sources – Fangraphs, MLB.com, MILB.com

2 COMMENTS

  1. Another guy with similar characteristics is Mallex Smith, who has run quite a bit in the past few years but gets caught stealing nearly as much as Mateo. Smith, though, has proven he can hit a bit over a few levels. But of course, just because one hits in the minors and can steal bases doesn’t mean both of those traits translates to the majors.

    • Exactly! Smith is definitely someone we are going to look at and it will be interesting to see how the Braves utilize him/if they try to cash in on Maybin to free up a spot.

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