If Aviators fans were asked to select a midseason MVP, odds are a good half-dozen players would split the votes rather evenly. But if fans were asked to vote for the team's most exciting player, the result likely would be more lopsided than Reagan versus Mondale in 1984.
Whether at the plate, on the field or rounding the bases, Jorge Mateo has absolutely dazzled Southern Nevada's baseball fans - and, really, baseball fans across the entire Pacific Coast League - all season long. It started on Opening Day in El Paso, Texas, where the fleet-footed shortstop went 3-for-5 with a home run, triple, three RBI and two runs scored, and it hasn't really stopped.
In fact, Mateo not only reached base safely in all 23 games in which he played in April, but he recorded at least one hit in 21 of those contests and had multiple hits in 12. He finished the first month with six doubles, six triples, 22 runs, seven stolen bases and a .352 batting average.
Then in May, the 6-foot, 192-pounder flexed his muscles but smacking six home runs, collecting 25 RBI and adding another 21 runs, six doubles, three triples and six stolen bases. While has batting average dipped a bit in June, Mateo still was a force at the plate, with five home runs, 17 RBI and 21 runs, plus another six doubles, four triples and four stolen bases.
Along the way, Mateo has flashed a spectacular glove at shortstop (and occasionally second base), showing remarkable range to his left and right, while also displaying a strong arm and blinding speed.
Add it all up, and you have one of the most exciting prospects in all of baseball, one who entered the All-Star break with a .308 batting average, 13 home runs, 62 RBI, 68 runs, 18 stolen bases, 13 triples and 116 hits. To give those numbers some perspective, consider that Mateo leads the PCL in triples, is tied for the league lead in hits and ranks fifth in stolen bases; he leads the Aviators in each of those categories, as well as doubles, and is tied for second in RBI; and he's already established a career high in homers.
Given his lengthy list of accomplishments in his second Triple-A season, it's no wonder that the 24-year-old native of Santo Domingo Oeste in the Dominican Republic received two midseason honors: On Sunday, Mateo had the opportunity to showcase his skills on a national stage in Major League Baseball's annual Futures Game in Cleveland, where he went 1-for-2 and provided the rest of America a brief glimpse of what Aviators fans have enjoyed all year. And on Wednesday, he'll return to El Paso and represent his team and the PCL in the Triple-A All-Star game, which will be televised on MLB Network at 6:05 p.m. PDT.
During the Aviators' most recent homestand, we caught up with Mateo to discuss his impressive season to date, patiently waiting for his first big-league opportunity and some sage advice he received from one of the game's all-time greats.
What was your reaction upon learning you had been selected to play in both the Futures Game and the Triple-A All-Star game?
It's really exciting and a great opportunity for me. I just want to take advantage of it - just play hard, play the right way and enjoy being around the guys. They're both great honors.
Last season was your first in Triple-A, and you struggled a bit playing for Nashville, batting just .230 with three home runs and 42 RBI in 131 games. How do you explain the turnaround that's resulted in a breakthrough season in Las Vegas?
It's definitely been a big improvement over last year, which was tough. But this year playing in this great stadium with a lot of new teammates, I'm just doing everything I can to get better. I haven't really been doing anything different. I'm just trying to focus on every pitch, stay patient, wait for my pitch and try to hit it hard. Right now, I'm just trying to work on everything, trying to get better in every area.
How difficult has it been waiting for the Oakland A's to call you up to the big leagues, given how well you have performed to this point and how much the organization thinks of you?
That's something you really can't control. The only thing you can control is how hard you play, try to be the best guy on the field every day and enjoy playing the game - just continue to go out there and perform my best. That's all I can do
You're not only the fastest player on your team, you might be the fastest in the entire PCL - if not all of baseball. When did you realize, "Wow, I'm pretty damn fast!"
At about 9 or 10 years old. We would have races every day in my country, and I would beat everybody. After [doing that] a couple of times, I was like, "Wow, I'm fast!" [Laughs.] I think what helped [improve] my speed is I spent a lot of time running on the beach and up in the mountains.
Which of your teammates would have the best chance to compete with you in a 40-yard dash?
I think [Dustin] Fowler and [Skye] Bolt. Those guys have really good speed. [Mark] Payton is fast, too.
Who is your favorite shortstop, the guy you really enjoyed watching when you were a kid?
Derek Jeter. I loved Jose Reyes, too. But Jeter - he was the [New York Yankees'] captain, the guy everybody wanted to be.
You were originally signed by the Yankees as a non-drafted free agent in 2012, when Jeter was still with the team. Did you ever meet him, and if so, what advice did he give you?
Yes, I've met him five or so times. He told me to play hard every day and remember there's always going to be a kid in the stadium who has never seen you [play] before, and you want to leave him with a good impression.
What sort of impression did you leave with Jeter?
When he saw me play the first time, he said, "Hey, this guy can play. This guy is really good."
This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.