It was a three-horse race between Kyle Harrison, Marco Luciano, and Luis Matos as the top prospect in the San Francisco Giants farm system entering the 2022 season.
Should SF Giants fans be worried about Luis Matos' slow start in 2022?
Matos was seemingly left behind by both Harrison and Luciano as the lefty pitcher and the shortstop performed exceptionally after the first month of the season while the Venezuelan outfielder is off to a slow start to his 2022 season. The right-handed batter only has 10 hits out of 71 plate appearances, all of which are singles, so far.
In terms of the metrics, Matos has a .268 OBP, a .222 wOBA, and a 42 wRC+. In terms of the peripherals, he has an 18.3% strikeout rate, the highest of his career, but he's also posting a career-high 11.3% walk rate, almost double his walk rate with San Jose. His swinging-strike rate is also right in the middle among all Giants position player prospects. In terms of his batted ball data, Matos has a career-low .204 BABIP (and one of the lowest in the entire farm system), and while his groundball, line drive, and flyball rates are similar when comparing this season and last season, the rate that he's hit to his pull-side (or to left field as a right-handed batter) is at a career-high 67.3%, and the increase to his pull rate is directly proportional to the decrease of his up-the-middle hit rate.
All in all, Matos has struggled no doubt. But the more important questions are why is it this way and can he bounce back? I mean the short answer to the latter question is, of course, he can but it's also important to note how certain we are that he will indeed bounce back. I took a look at all of his plate appearances against Spokane earlier this month because those are the only games with video broadcast capability (only Eugene and Hillsboro can so thank God, the Giants is an affiliate to one of those). Matos appeared in five games, totaling 19 plate appearances, hit three singles, drew a walk, struck out twice, and drove in a run.
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In the first game on April 13th, Matos grinded through a nine-pitch at-bat in his first time up, putting timber on pitches (fastballs and changeups) away, took a couple of fastballs on the edge of the plate that showed his good plate discipline, but was late on the final two fastballs, the first he fouled off with a defensive swing and the second blew by him for the strikeout even though the pitch was pretty much middle-middle. It was evident all game long that Matos was late on fastballs and was putting good wood on off-speed stuff that sniffed a good bit of the strike zone. A proof of it was his two-strike line-drive single to left-center in his second at-bat on a changeup that went down and away that Matos pulled a bit.
In the second game on April 14th, Matos was taking pitches that were considered easy takes all day long except the up and in fastball off the plate that Matos swung and hit it softly to the pitcher where Matos broke his bat as a result. Matos pulled any fastball that was in the zone and any breaking balls that were in the zone all game long that was in the zone Matos put solid wood on it but was not hit hard but not because of the velocity difference but more on the misjudgement of the break.
In the first game of the double-header on April 16th, Matos showed his in-game adjustments where he was late on the first fastball but put good wood on the next two fastballs, the second fastball he mishit and was an easy pop out to the right-field foul ground while the third was a similar pitch in terms of location with the second one and he put his majestic swing on it but just got under it and left it hanging on the left-field warning track. In terms of the breaking balls, there were three thrown and resulted to different outcomes: the first is an easy take, the second was nasty and Matos swung through it, and the third was thrown in a good spot but caught the zone and Matos pulled it to third base for the groundout.
In the second game of the double-header, Matos was hunting for the heater early on where he was not cheated on the off-speed pitches early and was close to barreling up one on the first at-bat but was just a bit too early on a pitch that looked like a changeup or slider and hit it to the warning track for the out. That "fastball hunter" mindset got to him in the second at-bat where Matos was way out in front of changeups that I considered as chase pitches and chase he did.
In the fifth and final game on April 17th, Matos pulled a breaking ball to left field for a single in his first at-bat but the pull tendency really shows out. There is a two-pitch sequence in the second at-bat where Matos was given two nearly identical fastballs in the same location (middle-middle) and Matos laid off on the second one after fouling the first one back to the screen. He was on time with the first but mysteriously took the second one. But then he reached for the final fastball away a bit off the plate resulting in a routine groundout to short. There was a two-pitch sequence in the third at-bat where Matos was given two straight identical curveballs I liked what Matos did as he could not hold up on his swing on the first one but wisely took the second for the base on balls.
After watching the series with Spokane, I came up with a couple of things that I noticed Matos did:
- He took pitches that are considered "easy takes" or non-competitive pitches for the most part and he was swinging at pitches that caught a good portion of the strike zone for the most part which is good development-wise.
- There are plenty of times when Matos will either be hunting fastballs and be early on the off-speed or Matos will be late on the fastballs and putting good wood on the off-speed.
- Good off-speed pitches (changeups and sliders) got Matos but not the bad ones as he put good wood on them.
- Matos was pulling a lot of pitches even pitches away on the edge of the zone.
All in all, it does not look like Matos was beating himself up or he suddenly had bad swing mechanics. The swing is still the same, the approach looked pretty similar to me. I mean there are questionable swing decisions but there are also good ones. He's disciplined but I mostly charted a lot of mishits, either he was early on the ball that resulted in him pulling a lot of pitches or just plain missing the sweet spot of the barrel but still making contact resulting in balls in play that resulted to outs. I think that Matos is still calibrating his swing against High-A competition (plenty of which are pitchers who he faced last season in Low-A). I think he's also trying to rack up walks (seven walks in his last 35 plate appearances) to make his game more well-rounded but that could also have an effect on his innate feel for the barrel.
Should I be worried about Matos' cold start? Not really. Just like last season where there was a stretch from August 21st to September 9th where he hit just .145, Matos did not develop any bad habits like changing his style to more of a free-swinger or chasing bad balls out of the strike zone because of the pressure. The wild Pacific Northwest weather where the temperature will get to the 30s in the latter innings and had a lot of games postponed due to rain does not help in terms of building or sustaining momentum either. It should only take a matter of time for Matos to finally calibrate his bat and start mashing, and there might be no better time than in the coming months as the temperature and weather become better.
Disclaimer: Stats are accurate as of May 2, 2022.