The 2014 season presented several challenges for 20-year-old Wyatt Mathisen. Not only did he see an aggressive push up to Low A West Virginia, but also saw a position switch.
When the Pirates drafted Mathisen out of high school in the 2nd round of the 2012 draft, the original plan was to have Mathisen play catcher. Because of the logjam of catching in the Pirates system, the Pirates moved Mathisen to third base. Mathisen’s athleticism and arm strength made him a good candidate for the position switch. It also helped that he spent a lot of time shortstop in high school. Mathisen played 84 games at third base this season, and his manager, Michael Ryan, was encouraged by the results.
“He has done so much better than what I thought he was going to do at third base and what the organization thought he was going to do. I thought it was going to be a real challenge for him in his first year,” Ryan said. “For him to come and play third base for his first season and only have [19 errors], that’s not bad at all. The best third baseman in the league they say defensively have almost 34, 35 errors.”
Ryan recognized that Mathisen still has a lot more to work on at third base, including his first-step quickness and instincts at the position. Ryan believes that as Mathisen gets more reps, he’ll continue to get better and better.
Third base has provided a challenge to Mathisen that he is not used to. Mathisen pointed out that staying focused on every play is something that has been challenging.
“I’m not in every single pitch [like I was at catcher]. I have to make sure to stay focused every single pitch even if I don’t get the ball. So that was the big thing in moving from catcher where I did get the ball every pitch, to third base where I have to be ready. I might not get the ball the whole game,” Mathisen explained.
Playing third base kept Mathisen a lot fresher throughout the season, which is something that he really enjoyed.
“My body’s not as tired as it was last year when I was catching, so that helps out a lot. I like it a lot more and it helps out with my hitting,” Mathisen said.
At the plate, Mathisen progressed well this year after struggling in an injury-plagued 2013 season. He finishing the 2014 season with a slash-line of .280/.344/.360 with 3 home runs, 17 doubles and 3 triples in 375 at bats.
Mathisen started the year off slowly, batting .247 in April and .237 in May, but at the start on June he took off. From that point forward, he hit .319 with an OPS of .765. In July, he suffered a leg injury in an incident at third base, missing much of the month, but that did not slow him down at the plate. An encouraging sign for Mathisen is his low 12.9 K%, showing that he is a line drive hitter who is able to make a lot of contact. At 6’1’’ 215 pounds, Mathisen is a big kid and the ball jumps off of his bat.
“He hits the ball hard,” Ryan said smiling after their game at the end of August. Ryan is thrilled with the improvements he’s made mechanically and how he approaches every at bat.
“His balance this year is way better than it was last year here and his numbers have improved. What’s impressive is his ability to go the other way. He’s really good at it and he finally figured out that’s what his strength is, and that’s what he tries to do each time up. When he stays on the opposite field approach it keeps him on off speed and he can turn on that. Each day his confidence grows and grows.”
With his improved approach and his ability to make hard contact, Mathisen is a prospect to watch in 2015. The Pirates are thin at third base prospects in their system, so having a top prospect like Mathisen adjusting well to the position is a good sign.