Over the Dragons 13-year history, fans at Fifth Third Field have been able to expect that an average of six players from each Dragons team will someday play in the Major Leagues. The club record for most future big leaguers on one Dragons team came in 2007, when 13 Dragons players who would eventually become Major League players took the field for the Dragons.
In many cases, Minor League players who are viewed as blue chip prospects seem to play with a bullseye on their backs. Players like Billy Hamilton, Jay Bruce, Homer Bailey, Adam Dunn, and Austin Kearns were well known to fans while they were members of the Dragons. Meanwhile, every other player on the club works hard to try to earn the same opportunity to reach his ultimate dream. Some can easily be overlooked during their time in the Minor Leagues, and some are late bloomers whose performances in the early stages of their professional career provide few clues that eventually, they will put it all together.
In September of 2007, a Triple-A player with a memorable name and solid if not exceptional skill level became available to the Cincinnati Reds. The player was outfielder Buck Coats, and he was a .300 hitter for the Cubs' affiliate, Iowa. The Cubs needed to clear a spot on their 40-man roster and decided that they could part with Coats. Reds scouts had seen enough in this young player that they felt he was worth a look. The Cubs traded Coats to the Reds for a player to be named later.
Coats played in 20 games for the Reds that September and then was traded to the Toronto Blue Jays organization. When the Reds and Cubs got together to determine the identity of the aforementioned player to be named later, they decided on a pitcher from that season's Dayton Dragons, reliever Marcos Mateo. Mateo was one of those players who never generated tremendous attention in Dayton, but he pitched well enough that summer to help the Dragons to the playoffs, and eventually, he would reach the big leagues as a member of the Cubs, becoming the 45th Dragons player to play in the Major Leagues.
Mateo spent the entire 2007 season with the Dragons, appearing in 41 games out of the bullpen as a 23 year old. He posted six saves and a 3.50 earned run average to go along with a modest 2-4 record. He enjoyed an excellent start to the season. Six weeks into the campaign, he was 2-0 with a 1.02 ERA and five saves. He made one appearance against the Cubs affiliate, Peoria, tossing two scoreless innings and striking out four. He showed enough to someone in the Cubs organization to lead to a desire by that club to receive Mateo as the player to be named later for Buck Coats.
Mateo climbed slowly through the Cubs system over the next several years. Entering the 2009 season, he was rated by Baseball America as the # 17 prospect in the Cubs organization. They described him as having "one of the most electric arms in the system. When he's fresh, his fastball ranges from 92-97, yet isn't necessarily his best pitch…he can run his hard slider up to 91 mph with unhittable tilt at times."
By 2010, he was pitching for the Double-A Tennessee Smokies, and at age 26, providing the best performance of his six-year professional career. In 17 games with the Smokies, he posted a 2.18 ERA. He walked only three and struck out 29 in 21 innings. He also pitched well enough in a brief stint in Triple-A that season to earn a promotion to Chicago. Mateo made his big league debut with the Cubs on August 9, 2010.
Mateo pitched in 21 games for the Cubs in 2010, finishing the year by allowing just one run over his final 10 outings. He went 0-1 with a 5.82 ERA, striking out 26 batters in 21.2 innings. Mateo made the Cubs opening day roster in 2011 and appeared in 23 games for the team, going 1-2 with a 4.30 ERA. He missed the entire 2012 season after undergoing "Tommy John" reconstructive elbow surgery.
Marcos Mateo was one of 13 members of the 2007 Dragons to reach the Major Leagues and the 45th Dragons big leaguer overall to make it. Next up: Chris Valaika.
Click here for Marcos Mateo's Major League Statistics, photos, and highlight clips.
Click here for Marcos Mateo's Minor League Statistics.
This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.