There were a lot of criticisms last year that the San Francisco Giants farm system was stagnating. There were a few breakout years from previously unheralded players, but the overarching view was that the organization had underperformed. Most of their top prospects had moved laterally or backwards. The depth was questionable. And the players on the verge of Major League contribution — what everyone is really looking for — were few and far between.
No such criticisms can be levied against the Giants this year. It’s been a spectacular season on the farm, and at the forefront has been the aggressive promotions of some of the most exciting players on the farm.
And the latest move will have every person invested in the farm system giddy: outfielder Luis Matos has been promoted to AAA Sacramento. The report comes via former McCovey Chronicles contributor Marc Delucchi of SI.
Per source, #SFGiants top outfielder prospect Luis Matos has been promoted and is heading to Triple-A. Matos was ranked the fourth-best prospect in the system entering the season @SFGiantsFN and has hit .304/.399/.444 at Double-A. https://t.co/xKm7vyFLH3— Marc Delucchi (@maddelucchi) May 16, 2023
What a remarkable year it has been for Matos. He ended 2021 being viewed by many as in the same tier of prospect as Marco Luciano and Kyle Harrison, the consensus top prospects in the organization. But he struggled mightily in 2022, at least in the stat sheets. He hit just .211/.275/.344 on the year in High-A, for just a 74 wRC+.
To the confusion of some, the Giants moved Matos up a level to start this year, giving him an Opening Day assignment with AA Richmond. They were publicly very optimistic, stating that they loved what Matos could do at the plate and that sometimes players perform better against higher-level pitchers than the less-predictable, wild youngsters in A-ball. They stated optimism that the offseason swing adjustments would square everything away.
Some people bought it (I remained quite high on him), while others were justifiably dubious.
Matos wasted no time proving the Giants right. He hit the heck out of the baseball in every way, shape, and form, starting on the first day of the season when he homered as part of a 3-hit day.
In 31 games with Richmond, Matos hit .304/.398/.443, for a 139 wRC+. And for those worried about those numbers being a flash in the pan, consider that his BABIP is just .320, which is a very low mark (for comparison, Casey Schmitt’s AA season last year that had everyone understandably excited, featured a 144 wRC+ with a .432 BABIP).
But most impressive is Matos’ ability to control the zone and make good swing decisions. In 133 plate appearances with Richmond, he struck out just 12 times, which is an absolutely ridiculous rate (he also drew 17 walks).
To see how ridiculous that number is, consider: there are 80 qualified batters in the Eastern League this year. Matos’ strikeout rate is second-best among those 80 at just 9.0%. Only 23 of those 80 batters have a rate below 20.0%. The median strikeout rate is 24.4%.
It’s here where I remind you that Matos turned 21 less than four months ago. He is very young for AA, and refusing to fall for the tricks of the older and more experienced pitchers he’s facing.
And now we get to see if he can do it in AAA.
Giants manager Gabe Kapler recently mentioned that it’s very exciting when a prospect makes it to AAA, because they’re only one move away from an MLB debut. That’s doubly true for Matos, who was added to the 40-man roster over the offseason as a Rule 5 protection. The Giants don’t have to worry about opening up a spot for him if they want him to fill in for an injured player, or if he forces his way into the plans.
Given the health concerns in the Giants outfield, Matos probably won’t have to set the world on fire to find it to the big leagues. Especially when you consider that hitting isn’t the only thing he offers. He’s a very talented center fielder who won Defensive Player of the Year honors at the Arizona Fall League last year, and he swiped nine bases with Richmond this season.
Like I said: it’s been a much better (and aggressive) season on the farm. Casey Schmitt, who entered the year with 33 games above High-A, has already become an electric everyday player in the Majors. Patrick Bailey was promoted to AAA even faster than Matos, and is already on the organization’s radar as an everyday catcher. Tyler Fitzgerald made it to AAA and is shining. Nick Swiney got a promotion to AAA after just six AA appearances. And Harrison is averaging more than 16 strikeouts per nine innings in AAA.
What a fun year.
But Matos isn’t the only player on the move. Also heading to Sacramento is right-handed pitcher Luke Jackson. The Giants signed Jackson, a reliever, to a two-year, $11.5 million deal in the offseason, knowing he was injured. He’ll be eligible to come off the 60-day IL before the end of the month, and just started a rehab assignment with Low-A San Jose. Now he’s headed northeast to Sacramento, and is apparently feeling great.
Fairly significant: Luke Jackson is heading to pitch for Sac the next two days - and he thinks that might be all he needs before joining the roster. He’s throwing in the mud 90s, feeling good. So those two outings will determine what’s next.— Susan Slusser (@susanslusser) May 16, 2023
And finally, outfielder Vaun Brown — one of the aforementioned breakout stars of 2022 — is taking Matos’ place in Richmond. Brown was always slated to start the year in AA, but a Spring Training injury pushed him back. He spent April in extended Spring Training, and had been rehabbing with Low-A San Jose and High-A Eugene. In nine rehab games Brown hit 13-37 with one home run, four doubles, four walks, and five stolen bases. Can’t wait to see what he does in Richmond.
But for now, we celebrate Matos. Welcome to AAA, Luis. I’m guessing an MLB debut is in your very near future.