The Royals have “shown interest” in 24-year old Athletics infielder Jorge Mateo, according to a report from Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic. Mateo hit .289/.330/.504 with 19 home runs and 24 steals in 119 games for Triple-A Las Vegas, and was a consensus top 100 prospect every season from 2016 to 2018. He is a free swinger, with just a 5 percent walk rate last year, to a 26 percent strikeout rate, which is why the Athletics have lost some faith in him to take over at shortstop from current starter Marcus Semien in 2021. The A’s have a logjam in the infield and could move one of them by the end of spring training, although Rosenthal reports that trade interest in Mateo is “tepid”.
Mateo was originally signed by the Yankees as a 16-year old, but was traded to Oakland in the Sonny Gray trade in 2017. He has 80-grade speed, an asset the Royals are alwayas looking to add, and has good raw power that has translated to decent home run numbers in the minors with potential for more. The scouting report at MLB Pipeline says Mateo “gets high grades for his defensive work at shortstop, with plus range and a very strong arm, though he still loses focus and can be inconsistent at the premium position.”
Mateo is out of options this year, and could be caught in a roster logjam, with Franklin Barreto also out of options, and Oakland looking to carry Rule 5 pick infielder Vimael Machin. The Royals already currently have Adalberto Mondesi scheduled to be the starter at shortstop. However, his availability to begin the season is still in doubt after he suffered a shoulder injury to end last season. He has yet to appear in a spring training game and recently had a “pause” in his comeback. Without Mondesi to begin the year, the Royals would likely move Nicky Lopez to shortstop, and Whit Merrifield to second, and would have to turn to non-roster options like Humberto Arteaga, Erick Mejia, or Matt Reynolds to be the reserve middle infielder. Mateo could provide more depth up the middle, allow the Royals to rest Mondesi on a regular basis, and allow Nicky Lopez to sit against tough left-handers.
Oakland was reportedly interested in left-handed relief specialist Tim Hill earlier this winter, with the Royals supposedly interested in minor league middle infielder Sheldon Neuse.
The Royals should definitely be looking for players out of options on other clubs that are caught in roster crunches. Mateo certainly has flaws to his game, but if they can get a young, toolsy player with upside without having to give up much, they need to add talent where they can get it.