Could a young SF Giants outfielder make the Opening Day roster after strong spring performance?

San Francisco Giants v Seattle Mariners
San Francisco Giants v Seattle Mariners / John E. Moore III/GettyImages

Young SF Giants outfielder Luis Matos has been one of the team's best hitters in the Cactus League. And, he just might be forcing his way onto the roster following a potential injury to Austin Slater according to manager Bob Melvin.

Could a young SF Giants outfielder make the Opening Day roster after strong spring performance?

Melvin joined the Murph and Markus show on KNBR and indicated that Slater had a minor setback in his recovery from offseason elbow surgery. This puts his status for the Opening Day roster in jeopardy, but it could create an opportunity for Matos.

Before the injury was revealed, the Giants had enough coverage in the outfield. Michael Conforto, Jung Hoo Lee, and Mike Yastrzemski were penciled in as the starting outfield alignment with Slater working as the fourth outfielder. There was not an obvious place for Matos on the roster given that the team wants to ensure that he has a clear path to playing time.

The Slater injury news has seemingly created that path to playing time for Matos. And, it could be an opportunity he embraces.

The right-handed bat has long been considered one of the team's best prospects. He began last season in Double-A and posted an .842 OPS with three home runs in 31 games before earning a promotion to Triple-A. Despite being one of the youngest players in the Eastern League, Matos had no problem with the advanced pitching.

It was more of the same in Triple-A. The 22-year-old posted a .398/.435/.685 line with seven home runs in his first 24 games with the Sacramento River Cats. That type of production in Triple-A from a player in his age-21 season is uncommon. Not surprisingly, he forced his way onto the Giants roster by the middle of last season.

The young outfielder did not have the same type of success against major league pitching as he did in the upper minors, but there were some positive trends. His 13.0 strikeout rate highlights his above-average contact skills and he hit a healthy number of line drives.

The Giants wanted Matos to add muscle in the offseason and he did just that. The early returns are encouraging as he has recorded a .314/.375/.667 line with four home runs, 11 RBI, and 14 runs in 51 Cactus League at-bats. Matos has collected 16 hits with 10 of them going for extra bases and he leads the team in most important offensive categories. I will be the first to mention that spring training stats are not indicative of the regular season, but he has done everything he can to make the team.

There was no clear path to playing time at the start of spring training, but even if that remained true, Matos has forced the Giants' hand. His Cactus League performance is too loud to ignore.

Sure, the righty bat could have begun this season in Triple-A, but there is little for him to gain from a development standpoint. He seemingly passed his final minor league test last season. The next challenge is to see how he does with an extended look in the majors. That opportunity might happen sooner rather than later.