SF Giants make unpopular move in demoting struggling young outfielder

New York Yankees v San Francisco Giants
New York Yankees v San Francisco Giants / Andy Kuno/San Francisco Giants/GettyImages

The SF Giants made a wildly unpopular move among fans on Wednesday. Young outfielder Luis Matos was optioned to Triple-A with Austin Slater being activated from the concussion list in a corresponding move according to the team's transaction log.

SF Giants make unpopular move in demoting struggling young outfielder

It felt like all of the Giants outfielders landed on the injured list all at once. Slater, Michael Conforto, and Jung Hoo Lee where shelved with injuries in May. This presented an opportunity for a pair of young outfielders in Matos and Heliot Ramos.

With Lee out for the year, there was a void in center field. Matos and Mike Yastrzemski were the top internal options to fill the void. Giants manager Bob Melvin went with Matos in center field and he was immediately rewarded.

The 22-year-old outfielder went on a tear right out of the gates. This included an 11-RBI stretch across two games in a series against the Colorado Rockies. He was the hottest hitter in baseball and was rewarded with NL Player of the Week honors.

However, Matos' numbers began to take a nosedive following that stretch. In his last 13 games, he tallied nine hits, all singles, in 59 plate appearances. Overall, he has a .577 OPS with two home runs in 89 plate appearances.

There were some process issues at the plate. For starters, he was chasing out of the strike zone way too much. He has shown better control of the strike zone in the past, so the Giants hope that he can get back to that soon.

Matos was also pulling the ball too much and not hitting the sweet spot of the bat. His pull rate was at 43.4 percent this year, up from 37.1 percent in 2023. The launch angle sweet spot dropped from 38.6 percent last year to 30.3 percent this season.

What does all this mean? The pull rate is typically an encouraging sign for a power hitter. While Matos does have some power, his strength is being more of a gap-to-gap hitter. When he was making contact, he was not barreling up the ball consistently enough. Matos is still doing a good job of keeping the ball off of the ground, but he was getting too much air under his swing leading to more fly outs and pop outs.

These are coachable qualities and he has shown that he can reverse these trends in the past. In the meantime, returning to Triple-A will allow him to get a chance to work on his approach without having to fight for playing time.

On the other side of the transaction, Austin Slater returned from the concussion list. He sustained the concussion after colliding with the center field fence in a game against the Cincinnati Reds in May. The good news is that he is healthy enough to return. The veteran bat only has five hits in 39 at-bats. The pressure will be on him to produce as the Giants' patience could be wearing thin.