I See Progress for Matias

You’ve heard enough about the mountain-top potential of Seuly Matias, about power that passes light towers and heads for outer orbit. You’ve heard him compared to Giancarlo Stanton and Nelson Cruz, guys who turn baseballs into marshmallows. So, I don’t want to bore you with more plaudits and praise for a 19-year-old who’s still in Low-A ball.

But I’m going to do it anyway because you need to get super excited about how he’s progressed recently. It could be a big, BIG step in the right direction for Matias.

The line on Matias is that he’s a high-variance guy, meaning he could be an amazingly great major leaguer or he could wash out in AA. And the reason for skepticism is Matias’ inability to get on base and his prodigiously high strikeout numbers. Yes, he hits a lot of balls out of the yard before trotting around the bases. He also misses a lot of balls completely and ends up walking slowly back to the dugout.

By now, the numbers should be fairly familiar to you, but if they aren’t, here’s a look at his season-long slash line: .223/.299/.550/.850. That comes with a 6.6 percent walk rate, a 35.2 percent strikeout rate, and a .249 BABIP (batting average on balls in play). The numbers that immediately scare people are the 35.2 percent strikeout rate and the .223 average. The 6.6 percent walk rate isn’t great, but it’s passable, especially with such great power numbers. But evaluators won’t look past a player striking out more than 35 percent of the time. And though batting average is relied on less than it use to be, it still matters.

The consensus on Matias is that he needs to cut down on strikeouts and put more balls in play.

And that’s exactly what he’s done. Since July 11, just before he opened eyes at the Futures Game, Matias’ strikeout rate is down nearly eight percent to 27.4. His slash line over that time is .254/.315/.507/.823 with a wRC+ of 132. His BABIP is up to .286, while his walk rate is down a bit at 4.1 percent. What this shows us is that Matias is making more contact and striking out less, and I think I have a theory as to why.

When I watched Matias swing in the first half of 2018, it looked like he had a grooved swing, like he was unable or unwilling to adjust his swing to simply make contact and avoid a strikeout. His grooved swing was made to hit home runs or miss completely. Consequently, he couldn’t hit balls that weren’t in his wheel house. He also hit very few singles. From the beginning of the season until July 11, just 19 of his 56 hits were singles. Since then, he has 17 hits and 10 of them are singles. How is that happening? Because he’s making contact with balls on the edges or just outside strike zone that he was missing completely. His swing has more flexibility to it.

In the doubleheader yesterday, Matias hit three more singles and a double, and if you watch the video of his recent games, you can see a more flexible swing. Instead of swinging the same 0-2 as he does 2-0, he’s adjusting to affectively increase his plate coverage. It may harm his walk numbers in the short-term, but those may return as he continues to refine his approach.

A decrease in strikeouts is the key to Matias’ success. He can strikeout at a rate in the low to mid-20s, but he can’t be in the low to mid-30s. That’s too fine a needle to thread. Over the last month, it looks like his game is evolving in a promising direction.

Photo Credit: minorleagueball.com

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