If you’ve been following the Rangers minor leagues this season, you have no doubt seen the name of Daniel Mateo. Mateo, a centerfielder who turned 21 earlier this month, came stateside for the first time in 2021, lit up the Arizona Complex League, and earned a promotion to Down East for the final couple of months of the 2021 season.
Mateo returned to the Wood Ducks in 2022 and has had a solid season. After getting off to a slow start this season, Mateo put up a 785 OPS in May, a 843 OPS in June, and has a 924 OPS for the of July. He is slashing .282/.330/.424 on the season, with 30 steals in 40 attempts. Mateo was ranked #48 on Jamey Newberg’s preseason top 72 prospect list, and I suspect he’s moved up the ranks with his solid 2022 season.
I had the opportunity to talk to Mateo last week and visit with him (through an interpreter) about his baseball journey, full season ball, and who he emulates as a player. The discussion is lightly edited for length and clarity.
AJM: You were signed out of the Dominican Republic in the 2018-19 signing period, but you have been working a long time to get ready for a professional baseball career. When was the first time you really thought you had a chance of becoming a professional player?
Mateo: From the moment I started playing baseball when I was twelve years old. In the place where I lived when I was a child, the people used to say that I was a very good player, and that I could be a good professional player in the future.
AJM: How did you get started playing baseball?
Mateo: My family inspired me to start playing.
AJM: Have you always been an outfielder, or did you ever play other positions?
Mateo: When I started tryouts, I initially played both infield and outfield, and that’s what I signed as, but they soon moved me to just outfield.
AJM: How did you end up signing with Texas?
Mateo: The Texas Rangers invited me to their academy. I spent three days there and I liked it there. They offered me a deal that made me want to sign with the Rangers.
AJM: COVID hit not long after you signed. What did you do in 2020 when the minor leagues were shut down to work on your game?
Mateo: When the pandemic hit, I watched a lot videos to help me. I went to the gym, and would try to play in the neighborhood with the people there.
AJM: In 2021, you started the year with the complex league team, then got sent to the full season low-A league in early August, where you were one of the youngest players on the team. Did it surprise you to be promoted that quickly?
Mateo: I didn’t feel surprised – I knew I had been playing well, and felt like I had done a good enough job to deserve the promotion. The work I had been doing put me in the position to move up.
AJM: You are back in Down East in 2022 – what did you learn from your time in Down East in 2021 has helped you grow and improve this year?
Mateo: To keep focused and keep doing my job – keep doing better and listen to the coaches.
AJM: This is your first season being in full season ball for a full year – what differences have you experienced playing full season ball, compared to complex ball?
Mateo: The difference in the players – the players are bigger and more professional in how they go about things. I’m also playing against more players who are older and more experienced than I am.
But I am continuing to do the job I have been doing since the beginning, trying to get better and keep focused.
AJM: Does the additional travel in the Carolina League more difficult than playing in the complex leagues?
Mateo: It is not difficult because I was prepared for it – I knew what was coming. The staff and coaches used to talk to me about what was involved and prepared me for it.
AJM: How did they prepare you for the longer season and the extra travel?
Mateo: They told me it was going to be a little bit harder and a little bit different – that I was going to need to keep my mind strong.
AJM: What is the best achievement you’ve had as a baseball player?
Mateo: The three home run game that I had this week – it is not common to have a three home run game.
AJM: Is there a major league player whose game you feel like is most similar to yours?
Mateo: I want to be like Carlos Gomez. Carlos Gomez inspired me, in regard to his skills, how he plays, how he involves himself in the game, how he is not scared – all the things he did, that’s how I want to play.
AJM: What has the experience been like working with Guilder Rodriguez, who is a coach with Down East this year?
Mateo: I am grateful for him – he works hard and has helped me improve, and has given me advice.
AJM: You got off to a slow start this season, but have been on fire the last six weeks or so – is there anything in particular that helped you get going?
Mateo: I watched a lot of video – I pushed myself and told myself I could do better, and just worked to improve.
AJM: You have about three months left in the season – what are your goals for the rest of 2022?
Mateo: To just keep working, keep doing a good job, and keep getting better. My goal is to hit .300 this season.
AJM: Is there anything else you want Rangers fans to know about you?
Mateo: I want Rangers fans to know that I’m trying to make history – I want to accomplish big things.
I appreciate Daniel making the time to visit with us, and I am going to be pulling for him, and keeping an eye on him, as he works his way up the organizational ladder.