Jorge Mateo is a Yankee, but he might as well be a Yankees fan. The 21-year-old shortstop and Yankees’ best prospect was suspended for two weeks on Wednesday, which will include missing the Futures Game at the All-Star Game, for supposedly “mouthing off” to Yankees executives.
The reason for Mateo’s outburst has been reported to be the fact that he hasn’t been promoted to Double-A yet, while players with less ability and less talent have been. Mateo has hit .266/.323/.396 with five home runs, 34 RBIs and 26 stolen bases in 76 games in High-A Tampa this season after hitting .321/.374/.452 in 21 games there last year. He had 82 steals between Charleston and Tampa last season.
Brian Cashman told teams last year at the trade deadline that Jorge Mateo was untouchable (along with Luis Severino, Aaron Judge and Gary Sanchez), which led to the Yankees only coming away with Dustin Ackley as they watched their eight-game division lead over the Blue Jays crumble after the Blue Jays acquired David Price.
If the New York Post’s report that Mateo called out the Yankees for not promoting him to Double-A then he was right to do so. If he truly is the Yankees’ best prospect playing a premium, then what is he still doing in Single-A? If it’s because he’s being blocked by another player in Trenton, let’s look at who that player might.
Cito Culver, the Yankees’ 2010 first-round pick, has played 33 games at shortstop and 28 games at second base for Trenton. Oddly enough, those are the two positions Mateo plays after seeing time as a second baseman this season. If you’re not familiar with Culver, when Vince Vaughn’s character (Jamie O’Hare) takes the field in the final scene in Rudy, the commentator says, “One of the players going into the game is Jamie O’Hare. O’Hare was heavily recruited throughout the country several years ago. He came to Notre Dame … and it’s safe to say that his career has been a disappointment.” That’s Cito Culver.
Culver is 23 now and reached Triple-A last season for eight games though he didn’t deserve it after hitting .199/.249/.279 in 106 games in Double-A. He’s a career .231/.306/.315 hitter in the minors and hasn’t had one good season. It’s not like his numbers are a product of inconsistency, they’re actually a product of consistent bad play.
Back when Culver was drafted, the Yankees were destroyed for the pick, but here’s what vice president and director of amateur scouting Damon Oppenheimer said:
“The main ranking that means something to me is what ranking our guys have. I had basically over 100 years of scouting experience go in to see this kid. When guys like my cross-checkers who have been doing this for a long time, former major-league hitting coaches like Gary Denbo and former scouting directors like Bill Livesey come back with a thumbs up, that means a lot more to me than the public opinion of Baseball America or some of the other publications who just aren’t able to get to these guys and don’t have scouting staffs.”
After the selection, Oppenheimer had a conference call with the Yankees beat writers and added, “We’ve been able to see him play for a long time. We’ve probably got a couple of hundred at-bats from him …We were ahead of the game because we knew so much about him.”
And when asked about waiting to pick him in the second round, Oppenheimer said, “The thought crossed my mind and I’m glad I didn’t, because after we did pick him I got a call from one of our competitors who’s very successful, saying he would not have gotten to us.”
(There’s a very good chance that call from one of the Yankees’ competitors, if there actually was a call, was made in jest.)
If it comes out that the Post’s report wasn’t accurate, well, it brought up the important question of why Mateo is still playing in Tampa as a 21-year-old top prospect, the same way Severino is still wasting bullets in Triple-A, while Ivan Nova makes start after start, the same way Judge keeps hitting meaningless home runs in Scranton while Aaron Hicks continues to play every day, the same way the Yankees gave a season of at-bats away at second base last year and then turned to Rob Refsnyder in the biggest games of the season at the end of September and the one-game playoff.
The Yankees are a mess. The front office thinks a 40-42 team can contend. The general manager built the 40-42 team. The manager continues to not put together the best possible lineup game after game. And the player development and scouting department hasn’t done anything in years. The Yankees have no idea what they are doing at any level right now and Mateo was right to call them out for it.