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Makeup Issues: Who Is Jorge Mateo?

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MLB: Spring Training-New York Yankees at Pittsburgh Pirates
“What have I done?”
Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Cindi really wanted to write this piece until I explained that I wasn’t talking about the type of makeup issues she is passionate about. Still, “super-medium hottie George Tomato” is one of her new favorite players and I had to hide her phone in order to stop her from weighing in. You can thank me later.

Opinions differ on whether the A’s should be concerned, or how concerned they should be, around the “makeup issues” that have followed Jorge Mateo’s profile since “Poutgate” emerged while he was with the Yankees.

In case you’ve been sleeping in a cave, or perhaps sleeping with Jake Cave, the concerns stem from a single incidence — a 2 week suspension levied by the Yankees — in July of 2016. Supposedly Mateo mouthed off, frustrated that he was not promoted from single-A to AA, though depending on what you read it is not clear whether this was the central issue or is perhaps there were deeper issues that the team chose to keep private. Mateo, who has a June birthday, had recently turned 21 at the time of the suspension.

In analyzing the situation, I will open by saying that in the continuum of prospect and player analysts I tend to put a bit more stock in “makeup/character” issues just because they often intersect with areas I consider to be key: work ethic, coachability, the ability to handle adversity and make adjustments. So I do not take “makeup concerns” lightly, as they can predict whether a player will or will not follow the path that maximizes his potential — and this is what separates big league players from failed prospects, as all have potential but only some reach or approach it.

That being said, Mateo’s issues don’t sound too many alarm bells for me. At 21 he was still very young when he acted perhaps in poor judgment. If he mouthed off unwisely or maybe broke a team rule (e.g., arriving late), hopefully the Yankees’ willingness to call him on it sent a constructive message that forced Mateo to mature. Certainly he responded in the very best way a player can: assault AA pitching and prove that you do belong at the higher level.

Just yesterday, in my work as a middle school guidance counselor, I had an all-too typical conversation with a 7th grader who asked to talk to me because he was feeling guilty and remorseful over a dumb thing he just done. He had responded to a classmate’s dare that he didn’t have the guts to pick up the classroom phone and dial 9-1-1 by doing just that. When the first responders arrived, and students were informed that this cost the school money and the first responders valuable time, the student realized he had royally messed up.

To his credit this student asked me if we could go find the principal so he could own up to being the one who made the call, and apologize to her for what he had done. To me that shows a lot of character, but he was having trouble not beating himself up for making the initial mistake. I pointed out to him that middle school kids are famous for doing dumb things; some learn from their mistakes, do the right thing to right to restore things any way they can, and come out wiser, while others repeat mistakes because they lack the character to own up, learn, and move on.

21 year olds are not middle school age, but they are still somewhat in that “young and dumb” stage of life -- they will look back on some of their choices and wonder what the heck they were thinking, or if they were thinking at all.

To my knowledge Mateo has not mouthed off, broken any rules, or dogged it on the base paths, since he returned from the 2-week suspension. That’s a good sign. He has certainly played well and appears, from a baseball point of view, to be ahead of his peers in entering his age 22/23 season already having thrived at AA (.300/.381 /.525 in 30 games with the Yankees, .292 /.333/.518 in 30 games with Oakland). A promotion to AAA from the outset, to play along side Franklin Barreto at Nashville, is not out of the question and would put Mateo on a timeline to debut in the big leagues before his 24th birthday.

I’m not sure Mateo has established himself in any way as a player likely to be dogged, from organization to organization, as a player with a bad attitude, poor work ethic, negative role model. But enough about Danny Valencia. Where I would watch him closely is whether he hustles on the field and avoids further controversy with his mouth — which is one of the few tools Mateo has that isn’t a plus one.

Just the change of scenery might be enough to give Mateo a fresh start and the chance to reinvent himself as a more mature player and person. It’s certainly not a given: like Valencia, Josh Hamilton (drugs) and Milton Bradley (anger) offer examples of players whose demons followed them wherever they went. But for Mateo, whose mistakes came young and were, as far as we know, a “one off,” I’m not sure anything has happened that presents a red flag so much as something worth watching. He is listed, in the Community Prospect List, as the organization’s #3 prospect, so apparently most of AN agrees. Here’s hoping they’re right.

Poll

How do you view Jorge Mateo’s makeup issues?

This poll is closed

  • 24%
    Way overblown — it’s a non-issue
    (138 votes)
  • 57%
    Not a big issue but important to keep an eye on
    (320 votes)
  • 14%
    Definitely a concern but he’s still a top prospect
    (79 votes)
  • 3%
    A big issue and part of why he will bust
    (18 votes)
555 votes total Vote Now