The last time the Cubs had acquired a minor league pitcher in exchange for a reserve infielder/outfielder via trade, it worked out quite well.
The pitcher was Kevin Hart, whom the Cubs got from the Orioles last December for Freddie Bynum. A 24-year-old right-hander, Hart has since gone from playing in Class A ball last year to playing in the big leagues this year.
A bit further down the ladder, Mateo appeared in 41 games with Class A Dayton in the Midwest League this past season. He was 2-4 with six saves and a 3.50 ERA in 72 innings, striking out 63 batters and walking 24.
Cincinnati signed Mateo out of the Dominican Republic in June of 2004.
Just as they initially viewed Hart, the Cubs consider Mateo, now 23, as something of a late developer. That’s all well and good with Scouting Director Tim Wilken, who knows that age is just a number.
“No one asked for Hart’s ID as he retired six out of seven batters he faced (Saturday night against St. Louis),” Wilken noted.
Mateo is a bit different than Hart, though. For one, he doesn’t have three different fastballs at his disposal. He also has yet to develop a changeup.
He does have what Wilken called two “average to plus pitches,” those being a fastball (anywhere from 89-95 mph, Wilken said) and a slider to complement his high three-quarters arm slot.
Marcos Mateo (Photo/Nick Falzerano)
Wilken said the Cubs had been eyeing Mateo for a while, as far back as last season in the rookie Pioneer League with the Billings Mustangs.
“At that time, he was basically all fastball,” Wilken said of the initial reports he received on Mateo from Cubs National Crosschecker Sam Hughes.
But when Billy Swoope, the Cubs’ area scout on the east coast, saw Mateo last month in the Midwest League at Dayton, he relayed to Wilken that Mateo had made strides with the development of a breaking pitch.
“He gave it a chance to be an average pitch down the road. Sammy had made mention that he threw a hard slider, but that he just hadn’t quite got the feel for it, so it looks like he made improvement through the course of the year with it,” Wilken said, adding, “He’s still looking for some feel for his changeup.”
Working on the development of the changeup will be on Mateo’s to-do list in the Cubs’ Instructional League camp in Arizona from now until mid-October.
Depending on whether Mateo can develop that pitch may go a long way in determining his future role with the organization, Wilken said.
“I think everyone would naturally assume he’s going to be either a setup righty or a situational righty because he’s a little bit of a hard thrower with limited feel,” Wilken said. “But that’s what the Instructional League and the following year will be for. We’re not in a rush.
“He may get a feel for a changeup down the line, and then you redirect and say, ‘OK, he may have the stuff to be a starter now,’” Wilken added. “He’s fairly athletic; a slender guy that’s starting to fill out a little bit and getting a little stronger. Some of those guys will fool you.”
The Reds listed Mateo as 6’2”, 160 pounds during his first season with the organization in the Dominican Summer League in 2004.
He is now listed as 200 pounds.
Wilken believes the Cubs picked up a solid addition in Mateo.
“We’ve got very good ingredients in two average to plus pitches with the guy,” he said. “We’ll see how he adapts, how his aptitude is to pick things up and what kind of competitor he is. We like the athleticism, the arm speed and the two plus pitches. Now we’ll see if the rest can kick in for him.
“The ingredients are there,” said Wilken.