Back in June, I wrote about the uncanny similarities between Ryan Mountcastle and Nick Castellanos. They remain near-perfect baseball clones – and possibly the two most-similar players I’ve ever observed. Today, we have Jorge Mateo under the spotlight. I’ll come right out and say it – this is more of a traditional player comparison rather than a true clone situation. If you’ve listened to The Warehouse podcast, it’s possible you picked up on the player I intend to discuss today. If you haven’t, let’s just draw this out a little more.

What Have We Here?

Mateo was, at one time, a fairly notable prospect. The New York Yankees swapped him to the Oakland Athletics as the headliner in the original Sonny Gray trade. Dustin Fowler and James Kaprielian also went westbound in the deal. Mateo, then 22, failed to develop within the Oakland system. He was finally sent packing to the Padres prior to the 2020 season. San Diego gave up on him mid-2021 and Baltimore claimed him. Bad teams are supposed to claim struggling players with carrying traits.

In Mateo’s case, the carrying trait is obvious – speed. Yet he’s always flashed other enticing characteristics too. He hit 19 home runs with the A’s Triple-A affiliate in 2019. Once Statcast was installed league-wide, it became immediately clear Mateo is capable of above-average max exit velocities – even if his average contact is rather paltry. Speed and hard top-end contact make the “what if” game rather interesting. What if he improved his plate discipline? Or his contact rate? Or maybe he’d hit for decent power? Perhaps his wheels could generate some BABIP fortune?

You can almost think of Mateo in Texas Holdem terms (or, if you don’t know poker, don’t worry about this overwrought metaphor). He represents a decent starting hand – say Jack/Queen of hearts. The flop comes out 5 of hearts, 6 of spades, King of spades. You’d usually fold, but nobody forces you out of the hand so you check. Then the turn comes as a 10 of hearts. Suddenly, you’re drawing to an open-end straight and a flush. You have a decent chance for your hand to turn into something. Mateo also had a decent chance, which is why the Padres and Orioles gave him a chance. He appears to have finally rivered a relevant card.

There’s one detail that was holding him back more than anything. The Majors are littered with speedy types who can’t really hit but play good defense. You don’t see them very often because they’re usually in backup roles, but they’re out there. Mateo had the speed, but he drew poor grades as a defender, especially at shortstop. He was pretty terrible in his short stint with Baltimore last season. It’s hard to roster this player-type if they don’t play flashy defense.

Suddenly, he’s doing almost everything well. He still commits too many errors. Among qualified shortstops (23 players), he’s tied third-worst with 16 errors and tied for worst with nine fielding errors. However, he makes up for that with range and a powerful throwing arm. Despite the errors, he rates as a slightly positive defender via virtually every advanced defensive metric. We can again play the “what if” game. In this case, we’ve seen some truly horrible shortstops like Marcus Semien and Carlos Correa turn into plus defenders. Mateo is far more athletic than them. More experience could turn him into a gold glover.

The Buried Lede

This brings us to our “clone.” Once upon a time, the Phillies had a glove-first shortstop prospect they shoved through the minors despite rather paltry hitting. He would flash periods of power, speed, and even a decent batting average, but he was far too frequently overmatched. This player never quite learned plate discipline, but he did figure out how to put the ball in play and even authored a 20/17 season. We’re talking about Freddy Galvis. You’re forgiven if he escaped your attention – just as a Royals fan would have no reason to notice Mateo.

To be sure, Galvis and Mateo have many notable differences. The developmental backgrounds were inversed, Galvis never had Mateo’s 80-grade speed, and Mateo got a much later start to his career as a Major League regular.

However, there are also some instructive similarities. Both shortstops lack plate discipline and try to use aggression as a way to prevent strikeouts. Said aggression also allows them to occasionally ambush a fastball or unexpectedly loft a breaking ball into the seats. As hitters, no executive in their right mind would shout “that’s somebody I need to start!” Toss in the capable shortstop defense, and we’re talking about likable league-average players.

This season, Mateo has delivered 12 home runs and 30 steals to go with a .226/.275/.394 batting line. Galvis’ peak offensive seasons were similar, albeit with fewer thefts. Check it out.

Mateo’s superior speed is more or less offset by the higher strikeout rate. Otherwise, they’re similar quality hitters.

Ok, So What?

The Orioles find themselves in a fun situation. We talk on most episodes of The Warehouse podcast about off-season plans. The topic of free agent shortstops is always lurking near the surface. It’s the position with the most readily available supply. The Orioles, with their virtually league minimum payroll, have the opportunity to set the market. Acquiring outside talent is a tried-and-true method to improve a roster. Unfortunately, between this market and the presence of Gunnar Henderson, it’s not clear Mateo has an everyday role with the 2023 Orioles.

That’s OK. Ideal even. During Galvis’ peak, he played for Phillies clubs that won 71 and 66 games. He then joined the Padres en route to 66 wins. The next year, he signed up with the Blue Jays. They won 67 games, but not before trading Galvis to the 75-win Reds.

When you start a player of Galvis or Mateo’s caliber at shortstop, you’re playing with a hand tied behind your back. The majority of 2022 contenders are anchored by a franchise cornerstone shortstop. There are exceptions – J.P. Crawford, Ha-Seong Kim, Bryson Stott, and Jeremy Pena aren’t vastly better or worse than Mateo. Those clubs have other stalwarts. Generally, you want a superstar shortstop on the payroll.

Let’s say they do sign a shortstop. That leaves Baltimore with Henderson at third base and a pile of options at second – Mateo, Ramon Urias, Jordan Westburg, Terrin Vavra, Joseph Ortiz, and Connor Norby are all either on hand, big league ready, or expected to be so at some point during 2023. That depth will, inevitably, be needed. An axiom in baseball – you will always need all of your depth. Sidenote: the org loves Joey Ortiz.

Players like Mateo, Urias, Vavra, and others are great discoveries because they extend the roster with their utility and add resilience in the event of an injury apocalypse. If Baltimore executes their plan this offseason, Mateo will find himself as one of the best bench players in the league – or a part-time second baseman. At least Rougned Odor will be gone. Right?

Brad Johnson
Brad Johnson

Brad Johnson is a fantasy baseball analyst for NBC SportsEDGE. He also contributes to “Front Office” content at MLB Trade Rumors. You can additionally find his work and support him directly at or follow him on Twitter @BaseballATeam.