Wyatt Mathisen made the move to third base in 2014.
Wyatt Mathisen made the move to third base in 2014.

When the Pittsburgh Pirates drafted Wyatt Mathisen in the second round of the 2012 draft, they made the decision to move him behind the plate. Mathisen was considered a very athletic player, to the point that he played mostly shortstop in high school. He did catch a few games, and the Pirates — who were short on catching prospects at the time — decided they liked what they saw at the position, enough to make him a full-time catcher.

The move behind the plate was short-lived. Mathisen played there during the 2012 season in the GCL. He went to West Virginia in 2013, but only managed 32 games, due to a labrum tear. In that same year, the Pirates drafted Reese McGuire in the first round, and saw Jin-De Jhang put up an impressive season in Jamestown. Mathisen’s injury would have put him back in West Virginia in 2014, with McGuire getting most of the playing time at catcher. So the Pirates went with another position change, this time moving Mathisen to third base.

“It was hard,” Mathisen said of the move. “Day by day I was trying to get better. It wasn’t as hard as it could have been, since I played infield in high school, so that helped out a lot. But it was just getting back to the natural instinct of first movement on balls at third base. I didn’t play a lot of third, I played more short [in high school]. So just the reaction times, getting used to the speed of the game back at third was tough. I thought it went well, and it’s just getting better every day.”

The Pirates are thin at the third base position in their minor league system. Mathisen is the only third base prospect who made our top 50 prospects this year, and in 2014 there were zero third basemen in the top 50 prospects. There have been third basemen who have ranked in the top 50 in previous years, although all of them had the upside of utility players. Mathisen is the first third base prospect the Pirates have had who has the upside of a starter since Pedro Alvarez was in the system in 2010. All of this means that, unlike catcher, there won’t be anyone pushing him off third base any time soon.

As far as his development at the position, Mathisen said third base was easier than catching, not just because infield was more familiar to him, but also because of the speed of the game at third, and the impact the new position had on his bat.

“I thought it impacted [the bat] a lot,” Mathisen said. “Obviously by the numbers it impacted it a lot. Being able to relax, and not having to think about defense 24/7 — when you’re catching, as soon as you get out at the plate, you’ve got to start thinking about the next inning and what the pitcher needs to do. At third, you still sit there and review what you did at-bat, and review what you did wrong. And once you go out to defense, then you can switch to defense, instead of having to do it instantly when you get off the field.”

Mathisen struggled in West Virginia in 2013, with a .185/.256/.210 line. That was after he showed a lot of promise in the GCL, batting .295/.388/.374. This time around, while playing third base, he hit for a .280/.344/.360 line. The biggest trend so far is that he has displayed the ability to hit for average and get on base, but his power has been down. He has been working out in Bradenton most of the off-season, focusing on adding more power going forward.

A big question about Mathisen was how his shoulder would hold up at the new position. He had a labrum injury the year before, which required a lot of rehab. The move to third base actually helped him stay healthy this year, as it reduced the wear and tear on his body.

“After 20 games at catcher, I thought I had gone through a whole season,” Mathisen said. “At third base, even at the end of the season, it felt a lot better than it did 30 games in at catcher. It wasn’t as much wear and tear on my shoulder, which was awesome. I didn’t have to throw the ball back to the pitcher every time, or do multiple throwing programs. It was just one, and get ready for the game, and that was about it.”

The reports on his defense were positive in the first season at the new position, with encouraging signs that he could stick at third. Mathisen has been focusing on his first-step quickness this off-season, which was one of the big issues for him last year. The biggest benefit going forward will probably be more playing time.

“It’s hard to simulate game speed with [a fungo bat], but you do the best you can,” Mathisen said about getting more familiar at third base. “When you’re in the game, it’s a lot different, so just getting game balls is what really helps.”

The Pirates will likely send Mathisen to Bradenton this year. He’s going to need to improve his power and continue learning the third base position. If Josh Harrison, who is under control through the 2017 season, shows that he can be a starting third baseman, then there will be no need to rush Mathisen. That would make it unlikely that he would move beyond Bradenton this season, even if there isn’t anyone really blocking his path in the upper levels.

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23 COMMENTS

  1. I do not know the limit on Wyatt, but I saw improvement in Wyatt in 2014. I saw a lot of one on one work with the coaching staff and Wyatt hours before the gates opened last season, and when he 1st started the transition to 3rd base it was rough to watch, but in the last few weeks he was pretty solid fielding, The bat was solid, and I think the power numbers will come back to him this season. 2015 will tell alot about his future, if he stays healthy

  2. Prospect? Maybe…but he has a lot to prove yet, mainly with the bat. At this time, I don’t see him being much more of a legitimate 3B prospect than Eric Wood. Wood at least has power, although he has his own issues as well. Maybe Mathisen does grow into the position in time, but I would say it is awfully premature to say he is the Pirates long term answer at 3B. They are still in desperate need of 3B prospects.

  3. My biggest disappointment after last year’s draft was that the Pirates went with Connor Joe in the first competitive balance round instead of Jacob Gatewood, a SS who went to the Brewers two picks later. I like to trust our team’s management as much as possible, but I feel like Gatewood has the better chance at being an impact player at the big league level. We could have shifted him to 3B and had a second legitimate prospect at that position.

    • Gatewood was awful this year – .206/.249/.279 with over a 30% K rate. Not to say he won’t get better and tap into his power, or that Joe won’t be a bust, but looks like a good decision at this point even when considering relative ages.

      • Beat me too it, 71 strikeouts and only 12 walks in 222 plate appearances doesn’t bode well for Gatewood even if he is a year and half younger in the rookie short season league. Cole Tucker on the other hand is a year younger than Gatewood, and only had 38 strikeouts to go with 26 walks in 217 PA at the same level.

      • Gatewood was a showcase hero who could hit the ball 500′ in batting practice but rarely at all in games. No chance to play SS, either.

        • Other than that, he was a sure fire 1st rounder, right NMR? Glad NH ignored the hype and trusted his scouts.

  4. What we have is one of those “oh, thank you god!” Moments. Finally a third base prospect in the system. Although it does remind a body a bit of the not to distant past when all the entire system had was one guy we hoped did not flame out.

      • Really? You don’t think he’s had a good season yet?
        .
        His BA and OBP have been pretty good so far and has a relatively low strikeout rate. I guess the only thing really missing is power as his SLG has been low.

        • He’s almost 2 full years older than McGuire and barely outhit him this year. The ONLY reason I’m excited about McGuire is the excellent D at a difficult position, until he shows a lot more with the bat. So I’m not too excited about Mathisen until he shows more too. I know he’s had a rocky path with injuries and position changes, but those are just excuses until he overcomes them and starts hitting with some authority.
          Yes, his BB/K looks great, but that only takes you so far.

          • You gotta remember though that getting a great bat from a catcher is just a bonus, if you get a .250 Avg. you will be ok. People forget that despite Russell Martin’s big season last year, his career Avg. is .254. with 116 HR’s over 9 seasons. If McGuire throws out runners at a 35-45% rate. I would be ecstatic if he played 9 seasons for us and averaged around .250, even if he only hit 90 HR;s in that time. Still good numbers. Buster Poseys and Yadier’s aren’t the norm.

  5. Ha, no one pushing Mathisen off third base until the Pirates draft an impressive new young 3B prospect in the 2015 first round! Kidding, I hope Mathisen has a great season.

    • Seven: I mentioned a week ago when they got LHSP Stephen Tarpley for Travis Snider and another unnamed “C” Prospect as the PTBNL, that there is a LH hitting 3B playing for the Asheville Lo A ball club of the Rockies named Ryan McMahon. His hitting is excellent and as a kid playing his 19 year old season his slash line was .282/.358/.502/.860. Right now, the Rockies have Nolan Arenado as the future at 3B and what do the Rockies need every year? Pitching, and the Pirates are flush with SP’s. He was a 2nd Round pick out of HS in 2013, so his price at this point may not be that high.

      • Totally agree Emjay, I’ve been saying that for a couple years that the Rockies would be a good trade suitor for the position. I would think it would make sense for both teams. If the Rockies wouldn’t give up McMahon this year, I think if you waited till mid-season 2016 you might even be able to get Arenado if we were willing to give up a few prospects. Depending on how Harrison continue to develops and Kang does, I think you could throw Walker in there if they would potentially want to sign him long term, which I just don’t think we are planning on doing. I believe if Walker went to Colorado his numbers would explode and they could use him at 3B till McMahon was ready or at 1B as a Morneau replacement. It makes sense whether we could get McMahon or Arenado, and I think if you did give up Walker and prospects you might even get a pitcher back whose numbers would project much better at PNC than at Coors.

        • I don’t know about you guys, but I’m pretty excited about seeing Josh Harrison at 3B through at least 2017.

          • I am but if they don’t have plans to re-sign Walker, I think you could move Harrison to 2nd where his bat plays a little better. It’s just hard to tell what will happen with Walker. at this point I really don’t want to lose him with no return. His value is to high. Of course if they plan on signing him, then Harrison is fine at 3rd. But if not Harrison is good at 2nd and I see Kang as the backup at 2nd, 3rd, and SS, gives you good flexibility.

          • Scott: Agree that JHAY was strong for the Pirates in 2014 and I hope he continues at the same or better pace in 2015. However, I know the article speaks to the Pirates having a prospect at 3B, but I disagree and think our 3B cupboard is bare, and we are totally reliant on JHAY to play well, and get paid accordingly. If he is average or above, I think his salary will become $2.8 mil in 2015, $5.0 mil in 2016 and $7.5 mil in 2017, and then what? He will be a Free Agent entering his age 31 season? The Pirates have multiples of top notch talent at just about every position except 3B. Why wait until 2017 to do something? Finding a young player now can pay dividends later. If he was not blocked and if we did not have an over-abundance of what the Rockies are looking for, I may not feel this strongly.

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