The Boston Red Sox have struggled to develop starting pitching in recent years, but there’s one prospect who might buck that trend: Bryan Mata.
Triple-A Pawtucket pitching coach Paul Abbott, a former major league hurler, heaped immense praise on the young right-hander earlier this week, placing him among the game’s most exhilarating farmhands.
“For me, probably the most exciting guy we have in our organization, and he’s one of the most exciting guys in baseball, period,” Abbott told reporters Monday during a video conference. “21 years old, touches 99 (mph), sits about 97, and just about everything he throws is top shelf.
“Obviously, he’s a young guy. There’s some emotions that get involved. They try and do too much. They are more throwers than pitchers. But he’s pretty advanced, even with that being said.”
MLB Pipeline ranks Mata as the Red Sox’s top pitching prospect and the organization’s No. 4 prospect overall, behind only Jeter Downs, Triston Casas and the recently promoted Bobby Dalbec.
There’s some debate as to whether Mata will remain a starter in the long run, with control issues, questions about his delivery and a powerful pitch repertoire suggesting he ultimately might be destined for the bullpen.
But Abbott sees a star in the making, even if Mata doesn’t crack the majors until at least 2021 after spending the 2020 season at the Red Sox’s alternate training site in Pawtucket.
“It was really exciting to see the (recent) side session, the command just really picked up, with everything, and it was playing up in that last game he pitched,” Abbott said.
” … You could see the excitement with him: ‘Oh yeah, this is cool, the ball is going where I want it.’ And with top-shelf stuff.”
Mata, originally signed as an international free agent from Venezuela in 2016, reached Double-A last season. He endured a few hiccups upon being promoted from High-A Salem, posting a 5.03 ERA in 53 2/3 innings across 11 starts with the Sea Dogs.
Fellow pitching prospect Tanner Houck just impressed in his MLB debut with Boston, though, so it’s fair to wonder what other arms might burst onto the scene amid the Red Sox’s rebuild.
Mata clearly is near, or at, the top of the list.
“He’s a reason for a lot of excitement for the future,” Abbott said, “because he’s something special.”
Thumbnail photo via Jim Rassol/USA TODAY Sports Images