ALTOONA, Pa. – His official listed weight on MiLB.com is 227 pounds. In the Altoona Curve game notes that media receives, he is listed at 241 pounds. Fortunately for the Curve — and the Pirates’ organization as a whole — that number is nowhere close to what Wyatt Mathisen now weighs in at for his fifth professional season.
Mathisen played shortstop and pitched while in high school; however, he was rated as the top prep catcher in the 2012 draft by Baseball America was taken in the second round by the Pirates. Plagued by injuries throughout his professional career, he officially made the move to third base before the 2014 campaign. He had trouble fielding that year, but he showed some improvements in 2015. Last year, he again missed a huge chunk of time due to injury.
One way to address injury concerns for an overweight player is easy… lose weight. Mathisen did just that, losing 40-45 pounds over this past offseason. He attributes the weight loss to a complete overhaul of his diet.
“I stopped eating carbs,” Mathisen said. “I have 55-60 carbs a day, max. I eat some in the morning to get me through the day, then I just eat meat and vegetables. That’s it. I cut my carbs and cut my sugar count down a lot.”
The dropped poundage allowed Mathisen to work out more during the week. Training with a personal trainer in Corpus Christi, TX, he said that the diet helped him have more energy in the gym during his workouts.
“I worked out more each week compared to what I did in the past, and it was nice because I could actually do that,” Mathisen said. “Before, I wasn’t able to, because I wasn’t in good enough shape to work out extra during the week. Once I got to a good weight, I had more energy to work out harder. I did the diet at the same time.”
Mathisen ditched the heavy weights in the gym, saying that it helped a lot with managing his weight. He utilized a more explosive weight training regime, helping him in all facets of the game of baseball, as well as in the weight loss department.
All of his hard work in the off-season has resulted in an All-Star campaign for the 23-year-old Texas native. He hit .295 with a .792 OPS leading up to the All-Star break. He has 13 doubles and four home runs so far this season, both on pace for the most in his career. While he had a huge platoon split in 2014 (.922 OPS against LHP and .633 against RHP), he has maintained a level of consistency against pitchers from both sides this season (.731 vs. LHP, .790 vs. RHP).
His hitting coach Kevin Riggs said that he has been extremely open to suggestions and has applied them to making his swing better.
“He’s been very good,” Riggs said. “He’s got some moving parts in there, so we’ve tried to minimize some stuff and lower his hands a little bit. We’re just getting him a little smaller with some of his movements. I’m very excited about where he is at.”
The numbers look similar to where they were last season in Bradenton; however, Mathisen knew that he wouldn’t be able to maintain that level of productivity while still carrying around the extra weight. He is hitting line drives at a higher rate than last season (24.7%), and his coaches have noted that his approach at the plate looks much more professional this year.
“This season has been pretty good so far,” Mathisen said. “I’m happy with where I’m at, but I want to keep progressing and getting better. Obviously, I’m never satisfied with where I’m at or what I’m doing on the field. I just want to keep getting better as a player both offensively and defensively.”
Defensively, he said that he can get to more baseballs now than he ever has in the past. His quickness has benefitted “100%” from the weight loss.
“I can get to so many more balls that I couldn’t have gotten to the last couple of years,” he said. “It’s helped a lot.”
It may help in the long run, too. There have been talks of him becoming more of a utility player in the future, and he even got in a game earlier this season at second base.
“We’ve talked about in the future, especially with my weight loss, being able to move around to different positions,” Mathisen said. “Whatever would get me on the field, that’s what my goal is. That’s why I got down to this weight — to give me more options than just playing third or first base. If they need me somewhere else down the road, they can move me to those places.”
With limited power potential, the opportunities to move around may prove to be very important. He has a good swing with gap-to-gap potential, but it hasn’t translated to the long ball much. Playing a corner position, something would have to give eventually. For now, though, he isn’t thinking much about that.
“I’m not worried as much about power numbers, especially with our organization,” Mathisen said. “It’s not something that the Pirates focus on like other organizations. Home runs will come. We talk about home runs aren’t hit, they’re pitched. You have to put a good swing on the right pitches, and they’ll go out eventually.”
Overall, his hitting coach said that he’s done a great job defensively, offensively, and in the clubhouse. The hope would be that the 2017 All-Star can continue to hit well and improve in the field. If he does, he can try to carve out a spot with the Triple-A club next season, and maybe find a path to the majors.